Subscribe

WüRZBURG, Germany — About two dozen kids at the Würzburg Youth Services soccer camp got instruction from a master this week.

Team USA defenseman Tony Sanneh sweated along with the kids in the 95-degree heat on Wednesday as he worked them through drills.

“I’m always looking for ways to give back,” said Sanneh, 32. “I heard the kids here could use some help.”

Sanneh, a St. Paul, Minn., native who helped lead Team USA into the quarterfinals of last year’s World Cup is currently on the roster of FC Nürnberg in the German Bundesliga.

A defender, Sanneh played Champion’s Cup soccer with Hertha BSC Berlin before transferring to FC Nürnberg at the start of last season. But a back injury cost him a chance to play in Nürnberg’s final 18 games last season.

“I’m in rehab, so I don’t have to worry about getting my rest,” said Sanneh, who missed Nürnberg’s season opener last Monday. “I’m about nine weeks out from returning.”

Sanneh’s back problems weren’t evident Wednesday as he enthusiastically jumped into the middle of every drill, demonstrating, encouraging and interacting with the campers.

“It’s a good experience to have a professional player coaching us,” said 10-year-old Taylor Cooper of Würzburg. “He really showed us some good drills.”

Youth sports coordinator Vincent Sciuto, who organized Sanneh’s visit, said the campers learned more than soccer skills.

“The best thing about Tony is that as great as he is as a player, he’s an even better person,” Sciuto said. “The kids not only are learning soccer skills and techniques from him, but they’re learning how to conduct themselves as people.”

Sciuto added the campers could have no better model.

“A lot of professional athletes view activities like this as a burden,” he said. “Tony’s not only willing to come out, but he’s out there actually running most of the sessions.”

Sanneh enjoys the opportunity to work with kids, he said.

“I’ve set up a foundation in the Twin Cities to emphasize soccer in the inner cities,” Sanneh said. “With the cost of field rental and coaching time these days, soccer is in danger of becoming just a suburban sport in the U.S.”

While helping youth soccer might be satisfying, Sanneh said he’s eager to get his professional career going again.

“It’s frustrating being out so long,” he said. “We had a problem diagnosing [the injury] at first, but it’s coming around now.”

When Sanneh recovers, there’s no guarantee he’ll stick with Nürnberg, which plays in Germany’s second division.

He has drawn serious interest from several first-division clubs in Germany and England, and might depart as soon as he’s healthy. If he stays in Nürnberg, he said, he’ll move from defense to forward.

“I’ve always thought of myself as a forward,” said Sanneh. “It’d be too boring just to play defense in the second league.”

Sanneh said he’s eager to get back to work with the U.S. national team, where he played every minute of every game at right back in 2002 as the Americans advanced to the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time.

Sanneh was key to the team’s successful run in the tournament. His perfect crossing pass set up Brian McBride’s game-winning header against Portugal, and he was named Man of the Match in the Americans’ 1-0 quarterfinal loss to eventual finalist Germany.

“It’s hard just watching them play,” Sanneh said of his Team USA teammates. “I talk to [head coach] Bruce [Arena] and all the guys a lot.”

In the meantime, though, Sanneh devotes himself to his other career as a soccer missionary.

“I was lucky to have a lot of good role models and people who helped me when I was growing up,” Sanneh said. “I’ve got a really trusted executive director at my foundation in St. Paul, and I give them all the time I can when I’m home. It’s hectic, going back and forth between here and the States, but I hope to have it really established in the next two-to-five years as I’m finishing my career.”

When he does, he’ll be perfectly positioned to fulfill his off-the-field goal.

“I want to contribute to U.S. soccer,” Sanneh said. “I want to help it grow.”

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now