U.S. defender Tony Sanneh has had a remarkable pro soccer career, rising from the Milwaukee Rampage of the USL all the way to the German Bundesliga. Sanneh earned two MLS championships with Bruce Arena and D.C. United, scoring goals in the 1996 and 1997 MLS Cups. Sanneh first appeared with the USMNT in 1997, and this summer will be making his first trip to the FIFA World Cup. We talked with Tony about his journey from the USL to the world's grandest stage.
After the pressure of fighting to avoid relegation, securing your place in the Bundesliga with an upset win against Bayer Leverkusen must have been gratifying
Tony Sanneh: "Against Leverkusen it was just a huge pressure of our back. We had playing well the last month or two; we just didn’t get points against some big teams. Our schedule was really nasty, but we were playing better soccer than the teams below us. We just were getting any points. To get a win like that against Leverkusen, especially since they were fighting for the championship and had just tied Manchester United and were going to the Champions League Final, does a lot for our club and for our self-confidence."
What was it like when you finally saw your name written on the 23-man list for the 2002 World Cup?
TS: "It was cool because nothing ever is for sure. The next day or two I got a million phone calls congratulating me. I think it was a little bit expected at this point, but until you get there you really don’t feel it. It’s an honor to be chosen and it’s a dream come true. You almost want to give yourself a pat on the back and say ‘OK, you made it.’"
In your mind, what will you need to show Bruce Arena in order to be in the first eleven starting June 5 against Portugal:
TS: "I think I just have to be confident. I’ve been playing well the last two months. I need to give my body a little refreshment. I have pretty good conditioning right now; I just have to keep my confidence up, play simple and play within the guidelines of the team, and hopefully really gel with the players that are here. Then I think I’ll have a really good chance to be on the field in Korea."
Looking back, you’ve had a pretty remarkable rise in your career, starting with the Milwaukee Rampage and now playing in one of the world’s top leagues and heading to the World Cup. Do you ever reflect on how far you’ve come?
TS: "You never really think about. You set out goals for yourself, and when you reach your goal you just make a bigger one. The more you have the more you want. I’ve improved during my career, and I’ve always went for new challenges. Starting to play professionally after college was a great thing for me. Going to D.C. and winning and coming to the national team was incredible, then moving to Europe and playing for a Champions League team, and now moving to a team where I have more of a leadership role. This is the culmination of it. I think when I look back in ten years I’m going to say, ‘I did it my way, and I did it right.’”