While the Sounders were in Foxboro to face the New England Revolution, Sanna Nyassi was in Africa with his twin brother Sainey to play in an African Cup of Nations qualifier for the Gambian National Team.
Reports from one news agency in Africa had Sanna scoring a goal in Gambia’s 3-1 win over Namibia. As it turns out, Seattle’s speedster did not play in the match and it was his brother who scored the goal, but Sanna Nyassi assured that he would have done just the same if he were on the field.
“A friend of mine called me right after the game and said that he heard that I scored the goal,” Nyassi said after his first training session back in Seattle on Saturday. “It’s all the same. My brother scores, it’s like I scored.”
It was subtle, but that comment was a great window into Nyassi that the Seattle media hadn’t previously been privy to.
The 21-year-old midfielder has always come across as quite reserved, dating back to when he joined the USL Sounders midway through the 2008 season. This year has been different though. Two trips to Africa to represent his country have yielded a goal in two matches. And an incredible boost of confidence.
“Generally it’s a great honor and a great reward. It fills them with confidence and enthusiasm,” Sigi Schmid said of players suiting up for their national teams. “Certainly it boosts his confidence level.”
However, Sounders FC assistant coach Brian Schmetzer, who coached Nyassi in the USL, points out that Nyassi’s close relationship with Leo Gonzalez has also contributed to his on-the-field improvements. Gonzalez is Nyassi’s roommate on the road and has encouraged him to come out of his shell more off the field.
He is a frequent target of some good-natured ribbing from his teammates, Schmetzer said, but he’s grown an ability to respond with a snappy comeback every now and then.
“Sanna actually has a really good personality, but he’s so quiet that nobody really saw the kind of character he really has. As he’s started to come out and have a bigger personality off the field, his on the field confidence grew as well,” Schmetzer said. “Certainly that coincided with changes in the lineup and getting a chance to play on a more regular basis than he had in the first year. It seems like the growth off the field has had a big part to do with his growth on the field as well.”
Back in Seattle, Nyassi has come to be known for two oddities. First, in four meetings with the New England Revolution, he and his brother have never been on the field together.
This trip happened to fall on the same weekend that Seattle faced New England in Foxboro, a twist in the schedule that ensured that the twins would continue to avoid each other on the field.
“I don’t know when it’s going to happen. I’m still looking forward to it. Maybe next year,” Nyassi said. “I really want to get him.”
Even still, the competitive juices were flowing. After the match with Namibia, Nyassi went back to the hotel and down to his brother’s room, whom he was sharing with New England teammate Kenny Mansally, to talk about the match.
“We were talking about the game and I told them it would be the same as it was in Seattle,” Nyassi said, referencing a 3-0 Sounders win in June. “When we woke up in the morning and saw that it was 3-1, I was saddened.”
The second thing his teammates chide him about is his affinity for sleeping.
So, how did he pass the time on the long flights to and from the Cup of Nations match?
“I slept the whole flight,” he said, drawing a laugh from passing teammates. “My brother woke me up to eat at least one meal. Then I went back to sleep.”
Nyassi hopes to make an appearance for Gambia in the return leg of the series with Namibia, but will take advantage of every opportunity he can get with the Sounders FC in the meantime. Tuesday night the Sounders face Saprissa in the CONCACAF Champions League.