A few months ago, when he leaped to the century-old German Bundesliga, former D.C. United midfielder Tony Sanneh figured his career and life were in for some radical transitions.
From Washington to Berlin. From English to German. From 20,000 spectators at RFK Stadium to 76,000 at Olympiastadion. For someone raised in Minnesota, schooled in Wisconsin and settled in Northern Virginia, it might have been a rough transition.
But after a frustrating start to his European adventure, Sanneh has fit in comfortably with Hertha BSC Berlin. He got an apartment in a trendy section of the historic city. He picked up a few German words and phrases. And most important, he helped the 107-year-old club finish a surprising third in the league, good enough for a spot in the prestigious European Champions League next season -- a competition in which Sanneh may play against some of the world's most famous clubs.
"It was a very positive experience," Sanneh said this week at United Park, where he is training with the U.S. national team for Sunday's match against Argentina at RFK Stadium.
But Sanneh said he wasn't overwhelmed by his new league and new club. Asked what he learned, he replied: "Nothing. It's just the same. It's football here, it's football there. It's fast-paced in Germany, and I had to get myself in better overall condition, but that was about the only change I had to make."
Commenting on the Bundesliga, which is one of the world's top leagues, Sanneh added: "It's a better league than Major League Soccer, but I didn't necessarily play for a better team. I think the teams we had in D.C., with all the great players that were here, would do very well in Germany."
Sanneh, 28, was an integral part of those United teams for three years, helping the club win three Eastern Conference titles and two MLS championships. But his contract with MLS expired after last season, and when the league didn't offer a large enough raise, Sanneh accepted a 2 1/2-year offer from Hertha Berlin. His base salary is $200,000, about doubling what he would have made if he had re-signed with MLS.
After arriving in Germany at midseason, Sanneh was sidelined for about nine weeks with leg muscle and ankle injuries. Once healthy, he got into seven matches and started two, including a 1-1 tie against league champion Bayern Munich. As he did with United, Sanneh played primarily on the right side of the midfield.
Hertha Berlin finished with an 18-8-8 record, behind Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen in the 18-team league.
Sanneh is back with the U.S. national team, which has been rejuvenated by former United coach Bruce Arena after its lowly World Cup performance last year. Sanneh's finest moment in a U.S. uniform came in February, when he scored during a 3-0 upset of Germany in Jacksonville, Fla.
"He's a player that needed to get pushed, and he's getting pushed in Germany," Arena said. "He has received no respect over there [because he's American], so he knows he is going to have to grind it out and make it so they believe in him."
Sanneh is scheduled to return to Berlin on July 1 for preseason training, but Arena likely will choose him to play in the FIFA Confederations Cup next month in Mexico, where first-round opponents include Brazil and Germany. Sanneh hopes Hertha Berlin officials and the U.S. Soccer Federation can reach a compromise so he can play in the tournament and not upset his employers.
"I'm in the mix [in Berlin], and they want me to be there with the team," Sanneh said. "I did pretty well last season and I think I'm a big part of that team now."
Soccer Notes: United midfielder Marco Etcheverry is the leading overall vote-getter in early balloting for the MLS All-Star Game.
Etcheverry has received 9,501 votes and is followed by Los Angeles midfielder Cobi Jones, who leads in the Western Conference with 8,476.
United defender Eddie Pope, who has missed six games with a broken foot, leads Eastern Conference defenders and is third overall with 8,451.
Teammates Jeff Agoos, Carlos Llamosa and Diego Sonora are third, fourth and sixth, respectively, among Eastern defenders.
United's Roy Lassiter, MLS's leading scorer, is first among forwards (6,920) while teammate Jaime Moreno is fifth.
Tom Presthus is third among goalkeepers, and Ben Olsen fourth among midfielders.
When: 1 p.m. Sunday.
Where: RFK Stadium.
TV: WJLA-7, WMAR-2.
Tickets: $18, $25, $32, $45. Available at TicketMaster locations and by calling 202-432-7328.
CAPTION: Tony Sanneh is on leave from German league to play for U.S. in its game against Argentina Sunday.