Q&A: Fire defender/midfielder Sanneh

not by a long shot. His recent call-ups to the U.S. men's national team during its critical World Cup Qualifying phase and arrival to Chicago in the Fire's biggest trade ever are signs that this "Big Cat has no plans of slowing down.

Chicago-Fire.com recently sat down with Sanneh to talk about his health, life between two worlds, his goals to help the U.S. win the most coveted Cup of all and the truth behind a trade that came to be known one of MLS's worst kept secrets.

Chicago-Fire.com: What has life been like for you since the trade? Have you had a chance to settle in at all?

Tony Sanneh: "I haven't really had a chance to settle yet. I spent a week in Chicago rehabbing, but I am getting to know the area a little bit. Right now I'm just trying to get to know my new teammates. I've spent time a lot of time talking to them about what's coming up this season."

CF: What were your thoughts about the deal that brought you to the Fire?

TS: "It was a situation where I knew the coach and the GM very well and vice versa. That made the switch much more comfortable."

CF: You mentioned you knew Fire President/GM Peter Wilt, having played for him with the Minnesota Thunder in the pre-MLS era.

TS: "Peter was known for being one of the best in the business both in the A-League with Minnesota and in MLS with Chicago. Obviously he has done well here with the Fire with the things the team has been able to accomplish despite losing so many talented players. The GM has to want you and the coach has to want you, and both of them were familiar with my history."

CF: Part of the coaching unit for the U.S. men's national team during the last World Cup cycle was Dave Sarachan, who you also played for at D.C. United. How is your relationship with him?

TS: "I've known Dave for six or seven years now. Players have a lot more communication with the assistant coaches it seems like, and Dave has also been tough on me to try to make me a better player, and I respect him for that. I was happy to see he got a chance as a head coach and hopefully we can continue a positive relationship."

CF: Although you've only been with the team for a few days here in Florida, what is your initial impression of the Fire squad?

TS: "I haven't been on the field with them as a team, so it's hard to say much soccer-wise, but people-wise it is a very positive group. There are no real cliques here. That's one of the first things you notice, that everybody gets along with each other and that makes for a great environment."

CF: Once you're back to 100% it is likely you'll be pulling double duty with both the Fire and the U.S. national team through October. How tough is it mentally and physically to grind through that process?

TS: "It will be a challenge, but fortunately, or unfortunately for me, MLS has the same dates for some of them, so it's not like you really have to do double duty. Unfortunately, you might have to miss one or the other. I went back to Germany and was training there to get ready and then I pushed myself a little, but I don't think I'll have a problem once I'm in game shape. I've been through it before. We had 10 Qualifiers in 2001 and I was flying back from Germany for those. This should be a lot less stressful though, with the shorter flights and such. I'm just looking forward to being a part of both teams."

CF: The Fire had their share of struggles last year, often on the defensive end of the field. What do you think you bring to the table that will help the Fire improve in 2005?

TS: "For one, I bring speed. On defense, speed never hurts. We will make mistakes and speed will sometimes help you get out of trouble. And then I also bring experience. This defense has a whole new look. C.J. (Brown) is healthy for the first time in a while, Jimmy (Curtin) had a great season last year and [Samuel] Caballero and [Mario Ivan] Guerrero are both national team caliber players. And all the guys that improved here last year are also a year older and more mature. It's not just me, but I think the Fire did a good job of going out there and putting together a real strong unit, and when they build it they looked for players that they thought would complement each other. I think the group will really work well together."

CF: This defensive group that has been assembled appears to be at least one of the most talented in the league. Having spent the last half of last season in Columbus last year, do you feel there is a better defense than the Fire's in MLS?

TS: "You can't really say because defense is actually a team game -- it starts with the forwards and goes back from there. We're very solid everywhere on the field. MLS is getting better and better. Columbus and Kansas City also have very strong defenders. But I think as a unit we'll be great, and the fact that we have one of the two best defensive midfielders in MLS also adds that much more help to our defense because he will help on the organization side of things."


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