Fire, Crew complete blockbuster

Fire official release
 Razov ties Metros: 56K|384K
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 Razov doubles up L.A.: 56K|384K
 Goal No. 2 vs. L.A.: 56K|384K
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The Chicago Fire and Columbus Crew announced Sunday that a trade has been worked out between the two clubs that will send Ante Razov to Columbus in exchange for Tony Sanneh. In the sign-and-trade deal, the Fire re-signed Razov with a portion of the same allocation (earned by missing the 2004 MLS Cup Playoffs) that was split to sign midfielder John Thorrington on Jan. 11.

Razov, an MLS and Chicago Fire original, leaves the Windy City as the Fire's all-time leading scorer with 192 points on 77 goals and 38 assists. He joined Chicago for their MLS Cup-winning inaugural season in 1998 after beginning his career with two seasons at the Los Angeles Galaxy. But it was at the Fire where Razov shined, helping the club win four domestic titles in seven years. In 2004 Razov made 13 appearances (11 as a starter) after being hampered by injures, scoring four goals and adding two assists.

"I am very excited and happy to be joining Columbus," said Razov. "It's a tremendous opportunity for me to resume my career with a team that has a great chance to win. In the end, winning is the only thing that matters. Leaving Chicago was not an easy decision, and I want to thank everyone for all their support in my time in Chicago. It was just time for a change and Columbus really made me feel wanted. Hopefully I am the missing link to complete the puzzle and can help Columbus win some championships."

Sanneh moves to the Fire after being picked up by the Crew late in the 2004 season. He made only six regular-season appearances for Columbus after returning from a successful six-year stint in the German Bundesliga. Sanneh quickly made contributions for the Crew both defensively and offensively, scoring five points on two goals and an assist to help Columbus set a new MLS record for consecutive regular-season games without a loss (18). He also played in both of the Crew's playoff matches.

"I'm very pleased to sign with the Fire and play in Chicago, which is closer to home," said the St. Paul, Minn., native Sanneh, currently with the U.S. national team in California preparing for the Feb. 9 World Cup qualifier against Trinidad & Tobago. "I'm reunited with Dave Sarachan, my former coach with the U.S. men's national team and D.C. United, as well as with Peter Wilt, who I played for in Minnesota with the Thunder, and Chris Armas, my teammate at the national team level."

Sanneh heads to Chicago with an abundance of international experience. The 33-year-old has made 41 appearances for the U.S. national team, including a superb showing during the side's historic quarterfinal run at the 2002 FIFA World Cup in South Korea and Japan. He started all five games for the U.S. during the tournament and he was one of only three players to play every minute of the team's amazing showing.

A two-time MLS All-Star, Razov has also featured for the U.S. team, earning 24 caps and scoring six goals for the Red, White and Blue.

The addition of Sanneh to Chicago coach Dave Sarachan's side is only the most recent in a number of offseason moves for the Fire, who are looking to rebuild after a disappointing campaign in 2004 that saw them miss the MLS postseason for the first time in the club's existence. No fewer than nine new faces will be on hand when the Fire open their first preseason camp on Tuesday.

The Chicago defense was one of the most porous in MLS in 2004, allowing 44 goals in 30 matches. Sarachan has struggled to find a consistent replacement for Carlos Bocanegra, who departed for Fulham FC of England at the end of the 2003 season, but Sanneh brings familiarity and reliability both to defense and midfield.

In addition to acquiring Sanneh, the trade also opens up competition for a starting spot alongside Damani Ralph in the Fire attack. Forwards Andy Herron, Nate Jaqua and the recently-drafted Chad Barrett will vie for a place in the Fire's starting 11.

A striker position also opened up recently for the Crew when they sent Jeff Cunningham to the Colorado Rapids in a draft-day trade. If he can stay healthy, Razov should be a key source of offense for the Crew. Others battling for a place in Crew head coach Greg Andrulis's starting lineup are Edson Buddle, Dante Washington, David Testo and draftees Marcus Storey and Dominic Mediate.

The Fire and Crew are both expected to open their preseason camps this week. Each side will hold its first preparatory training session Tuesday before departing for the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., for extensive camps. Chicago and Columbus will also play scrimmages during their time in Florida.

Major League Soccer's 10th season kicks off on April 2. Chicago will open their season at home against FC Dallas at 8:30 p.m. ET, while Columbus will also begin their campaign at home, hosting the Los Angeles Galaxy at Crew Stadium (7:30 p.m. ET). The complete 2005 season schedule is expected to be announced in the coming month.

Jonathan Nierman is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.