Tony Sanneh, one of the U.S. national team's most experienced and talented defenders, is set to return home from a successful European stint to join the Columbus Crew. A deal has been reached in principle between Major League Soccer, the Columbus Crew and FC Nurnberg of the German Bundesliga, where Sanneh has played since 2001. An official announcement of the deal is pending the completion of all the necessary paperwork.
Sanneh, 33, will join MLS for the second time in his career, having helped D.C. United capture back-to-back MLS Cup championships in 1996 and 1997 before making the jump to Germany where he played for Hertha Berlin. Sanneh was there for three seasons before moving to Nurnburg.
The St. Paul, Minn., native has made 40 appearances for the U.S. national team, including a stellar performance at the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Korea/Japan, where he started all five games in the USA's historic quarterfinal run. Sanneh was also one of only three players to play every minute for the U.S. team in that tournament.
Sanneh is a major addition to the Crew's back line and he arrives just in time to help the Crew fight for the top spot in the Eastern Conference just one year after the club missed the MLS playoffs for only the second time.
Columbus is currently in second place (30 points), but they trail the conference-leading MetroStars by just two points. Should Sanneh's paperwork come through this week as expected, he could be available for selection in Sunday's game against the MetroStars. If Columbus wins that match, Sanneh could help them claim the top spot in the East in his first appearance for the Crew.
After arriving in Columbus late Sunday night, Sanneh reported to the Crew on Monday, where he underwent a physical and trained with the squad. With unclaimed roster spots available, the Crew are not forced to make any changes to the team to accommodate for Sanneh's expected addition. Also, the club still holds one major allocation and one discovery option.
Crew head coach Greg Andrulis might, however, have to do some shuffling to his starting lineup, as he now boasts two of the top right-sided defenders in the U.S. national team pool in Sanneh and Frankie Hejduk. Both players get up and down the flank, both have played as wide midfielders and fullbacks or as wingbacks in a 3-5-2.
"We are very happy to have Tony join us," said Andrulis. "He is an extremely talented player who will make our team better. I also want to thank Todd Durbin in the league office for helping us get through the process."
"I am very happy and excited to be back in the Midwest and America," added Sanneh. "It's great to come into an environment where there are a lot of positive things going on, not only on the field, but also in the community. I feel I can be a valuable addition do the team. Right now everything is going well with the team and I want to be able to give the team a late-season spark if it is needed. And when we get to the playoffs, I want to be able to lend my experience to help where it's needed."
Jonathan Nierman is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.