Gold Cup: Sanneh Looking To Bring More Color To Soccer

By Michael Ko
Updated: July 10, 2005

GoldSEATTLE,WA.—Tony Sanneh understands it’s hard enough to convert the average American fan to soccer. But for him, there has been another layer to that challenge.

Sanneh is African-American.

The sport, he admits, has little cachet among African-Americans. And the majority of young African-American athletes, he says, have preferred to pursue the well-publicized, multi-million dollar dreams offered by other pro sports like basketball and football.

Sanneh is one of four African-Americans on the 23-man U.S. Gold Cup tournament team, which plays Canada today 1:30 p.m. at Qwest Field. The others are DeMarcus Beasley, Oguchi Onyewu and Eddie Pope.

Should the U.S. qualify for the 2006 World Cup, three roster could also include Tim Howard, Eddie Johnson and Cory Gibbs. Teenage phenom Freddy Adu, who signed a professional soccer contract at 14, is on the verge of international stardom.

Sanneh runs a non-profit organization in his native St. Paul, Minn., which teaches soccer to inner-city children. He believes African-American kids aren’t getting enough exposure to the sport.

“It’ll never reach the other sports for a long time,” Sanneh said. “But we’re starting to get better and better athletes.”

Gold Cup Today at Qwest Field

11:30 a.m.: Cuba vs. Costa Rica

1:30 p.m.: Canada vs. United States

Beasley believes soccer “is getting to be not just a white, suburban sport anymore. Now it’s getting to be for everybody. Hopefully, people see myself, Eddie Pope, Tony, and they can see that black people can get into it.”

Still, the numbers of African-Americans among players on Major League Soccer rosters has remained between 15 and 19 percent since 1998, according to a recent study at the University of Central Florida.

Quaranta praised

After his team’s opening-round 4-1 win over Cuba, U.S. coach Bruce Arena singled out the play of Santino Quaranta as noteworthy among his younger players.

In his first international game, Quaranta started and recorded an assist on the third American goal. The 20-year-old Baltimore native is one of nine players on the Gold Cup roster who hadn’t played a national-team match until Thursday.

“I think he showed a comfort level on the ball that we haven’t seen in young players their first time out,” Arena said after practice yesterday at the Seahawks’ training facility in Kirkland. “You don’t see a lot of that, so that was a positive.”

Diplomatic answer

In 2002, when the Gold Cup tournament was played in Los Angeles, two players from the Cuban national team defected.

Luis Hernandez, the president of the Cuban Football Federation, responded diplomatically to a question about possible defections on this year’s squad.

“All these players are in the first division playing in Cuba,” he said through a translator. “They all belong there. That’s where they’re getting their paychecks, so they have an obligation to return to that.”


� Lacey native Kasey Keller will start in goal against Canada.

� The U.S. game will be preceded by Costa Rica versus Cuba at 11:30 a.m.

� The Cuban team ran into logistical trouble at Oakland International Airport on its way into Seattle. After a 12-hour flight from Cuba, the team was delayed for four hours at the airport because it couldn’t find a Spanish-speaking agent to process the players.

“I think the team showed the effects of that (in the loss to the U.S.),” Hernandez said of Cuba’s performance Thursday.

� Gold Cup matches in Miami were postponed because of the approach of Hurricane Dennis. The hurricane has killed at least 10 in the Caribbean. Soccer authorities closed the Orange Bowl, site of Group A matches scheduled for today and Monday. Colombia and Honduras will now play tomorrow, followed by a match between Panama and Trinidad and Tobago.