A Parisian in America

French striker Saer Sene has found instant success in MLS

The following story was published in the Revolution’s “Match Day” program for the September 1 game against the Philadelphia Union

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Former Bayern Munich reserve Saer Sene knew his move to Major League Soccer was the right decision when he took the field for his first preseason game with the New England Revolution.

In that Feb. 22 match – the opener of the Desert Diamond Cup in Tucson, Ariz. – Sene lined up across from the defending MLS Cup champion LA Galaxy, led by none other than international icon David Beckham. Although it was only a preseason match, Sene received immediate confirmation of the league’s level of play.

“I saw the league had very good quality, very big players like Beckham, a very good player who played in Europe,” said Sene. “It’s a very good level. It’s not like in Germany, but a very, very good level. This is professional. It’s very fast physically. I love it.”

It’s easy to understand why Sene is enjoying his time stateside considering the level of success he’s had in the first six months of his MLS career. The French striker scored his ninth goal of the season in just his 20th appearance on July 29, making him the Revolution’s highest single-season goal scorer since Taylor Twellman scored 16 times back in 2007.

While such immediate success may have surprised fans – not to mention other teams around the league – it wasn’t a shock to head coach Jay Heaps, who saw Sene’s potential during a preseason training stint prior to his signing. Nor was it a surprise to Sene himself, who has always been confident in his own abilities.

“Not to be arrogant, but I stay positive and I’m a striker,” said Sene. “I’m here to score goals, to help the team. (When I arrived) I was 100 percent ready for the team to do my best and score goals. I have nine goals already. I can have more. But I have nine goals and this is good. I want to score more goals for the team.”

Although still relatively young at 25 years old, Sene’s prior experience with Bayern Munich played a massive role in his ease of transition to MLS. Training and occasionally playing alongside such world-renowned stars as Miroslav Klose, Thomas Müller, Franck Ribéry and Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sene learned first and foremost how to be a professional.

“The whole team was only big, international players and I was young,” Sene said of his time in Germany. “I got the chance to train with the first team and play a couple games. That’s why I learned very fast. They taught me and they were helping me to work hard every day.

“That’s why when I came here – I don’t say it’s easy; it’s not easy, this is professional soccer – but I learned first in Germany to have the professional mentality. When I came here, I did what I learned at Bayern Munich. That’s why I didn’t have too much of a problem.”

Sene also credits the role his coaches and teammates have played in his quick acclimation, noting the welcoming nature of the locker room and the club’s tight-knit feel. Because he was able to reach an instant comfort level off the field, Sene’s performances on the field have flourished.

“When you play soccer, if you play in Brazil, or in England or in France, this is soccer,” said Sene. “You have to work hard and play. I have a very good team to [help me] adapt. I feel good when I come to practice, I’m happy to come see my teammates. That’s why I integrated fast with the players here.”

It seems like a straightforward formula; foreign player arrives stateside and uses prior experience and the help of a welcoming locker room to find instant success. But why then the countless stories of foreign players who arrived in MLS only to take months and sometimes years to fully adapt?

The answer may have nothing to do with soccer. Most foreign players identify a struggle to adapt to American culture as their biggest obstacle upon arriving in MLS. The food is different. The people are different. The travel is different. It can be a bit overwhelming.

But Sene has encountered no such difficulty. In fact, he claims to feel more comfortable in the United States than he ever did in Europe.

“I love the mentality in the U.S.,” said Sene. “The people here are easier. I was born in Paris. It’s a big city with maybe more stress. Here, it’s easier … If you’ve been to France or to Europe, you will see the difference between here and there. I love the culture, the mentality and the people here.”

While Sene loves the American way of life, there is one link to home he holds dear here in MLS. As a youngster, Sene grew up idolizing fellow French striker Thierry Henry, who now captains the New York Red Bulls. Sene has had the chance to meet with Henry on multiple occasions this season, but what the Revs striker is most excited about is potentially challenging his boyhood hero on the scoring charts.

“When I was young, he was my idol and I watched him play. Today, I play against him,” Sene said with a smile. “This is a big chance and I can challenge him. That makes me happy.”

If Sene continues down his current path, he may well be on his way.