FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Sainey and Sanna Nyassi may be Major League Soccer’s 15th pair of brothers, but this season they made league history, becoming the first set of twins to face off in an MLS match. Surprisingly, this feat was reached after three years of being in the league together. In those three years, their teams competed regularly, but the brothers never seemed to meet eye-to-eye on the field.
In Gambia, the twins had been teammates on club side Port Authority and their nation’s youth and senior national teams. The two had brief stints in Norway shortly thereafter, again remaining geographically close to each other. It wasn’t until the summer of 2007, during the U-20 World Cup in Canada, that the strength of the bond between the Nyassis was tested.
“We were with the youth national team for the World Cup in Montreal, and (Revolution Head Coach) Stevie (Nicol) saw me and Kenny (Mansally) against Portugal,” said Nyassi. “After that (match) I got a call from my agent and that’s how it started.”
Nicol was impressed by the two youth internationals and presented both Sainey and fellow Revolution teammate Mansally the opportunity to trial with the MLS side after fulfilling national team duties at the tournament.
“We came over (to New England) for a tryout for one week and then they extended it,” Nyassi said.
The two Gambian internationals signed with the Revolution late in the 2007 season and for the first time, Sainey embarked on a new challenge without his twin brother by his side. Thousands of miles from Foxborough, Sanna found himself in Norway training with a second division team.
It didn’t take long for Sainey to act on this separation, however.
Already familiar with the league, Sainey gave his brother a crash-course regarding the skill level, expectations and travel, among other aspects of the game in America, which ultimately convinced Sanna to take the initiative and join MLS.
“I told him what the deal was,” explained Nyassi. “I told him (the league’s) coming up and a better league than other countries out there. It’s a better place to start, and it would be great for him to come join me. He was happy with it.”
Sainey did more than just tell his brother what to do; he also took it upon himself to help the process along. He used the same resource that had helped him get his start in MLS.
“I told my agent that I wanted him to come over and join me because Norway is far (from New England),” said Nyassi.
That sole request would serve as the catalyst for Sanna’s move to the States. Sainey, who played an integral part in Sanna’s journey to MLS, decided that his brother should first switch agents.
“I told Sanna not to extend his contract (with his previous agent) because I wanted us to share the same agent,” said Nyassi. “That’s how it started and we are still sharing the same agent.”
The agent who had already helped Sainey sign with New England networked within MLS and contacted San Jose on behalf of Sanna for a tryout.
When things didn’t materialize with the first club in 2008, Sanna traveled up the West Coast to Seattle, where the USL team, Seattle Sounders FC, was amidst its promotion to MLS for the 2009 season. Sanna signed with the team, thus securing a longer stay in the States with his brother.
After spending two seasons with the newly promoted Sounders, Sanna was selected by the Vancouver Whitecaps in the 2010 Expansion Draft, but was immediately traded to the Colorado Rapids, inching him that much closer to his brother’s home in New England.
Even though they still reside in different time zones, the Nyassis are pleased to be in the same league with the opportunity to closely follow each other’s progress.
“I always watch his games and likewise, he always watches my games,” said Nyassi.
Given the distance, it would be natural for a pair of twins who were used to spending almost every moment together for most of their lives to struggle without each other. Thanks to Mr. Edison, the two are doing well because they have now become accustomed to talking to each other over the phone, sometimes multiple times a day.
“We talk all of the time,” declared Nyassi. “We spend a lot of time on the phone since he’s far (from New England).
“We talk about our (teams’) positions in the league, how other teams are doing, our performances, what we need to work on; things like that,” he continued.
It is no surprise that Sainey and Sanna possess the competitive nature that is common among siblings, since their teams meet twice a year, and results mean a great deal when making a playoff push, as well as for bragging rights.
“If whatever we are doing is about competition, me and him, we are always fighting to win,” said Nyassi. “But whatever team he’s on, I always support that team. I want that team to be winning, unless we are playing against them.”
That one-on-one duel took years to arrive. Since Sanna joined the league, the Nyassi brothers could only wait patiently for the moment in which they would share the field in an MLS contest.
“I waited for that (moment) for a long time,” said Nyassi. “(Sanna’s) first year, in 2009, it didn’t happen. The following year, it didn’t happen. I was like, ‘Let me just hang in there. It might happen one day.’”
They narrowly missed out on a chance two years ago when Sainey, who started the match against Seattle on August 20, 2009, was replaced by a substitute in the 67th minute, just two minutes before Sanna entered the game.
Just under two years later, on July 23, 2011, they finally squared off on the field for the first time in different uniforms when the Revs visited the Colorado Rapids.
“It’s kind of weird and sometimes funny to look around and see someone who is exactly like you playing on the same field,” said Sainey of the experience of playing opposite his identical twin.
Revolution defender and teammate Darrius Barnes proved, too, that it wasn’t just Sainey who saw double on the field during the July 23 game against the Rapids. During his interview on RevsWrap following the match, Barnes was asked about the challenges in defending Rapids forward Sanna Nyassi.
“I feel like I play against [Sanna] every day at practice,” Barnes said jokingly. “I play against Sainey and I know how to defend Sainey, so I used that same mentality going into the (Colorado) game.”
Holding different positions on the field doesn’t mask the fact that these twins are equally quick and can strike the ball, hard. They learned the game with each other growing up, so it’s inevitable that they will share similar technique, along with other physical attributes.
“We used to be on the same teams back home, since we were young,” said Nyassi. “Then we came here and went different ways, so I would love for us to be on the same team. It’s a possibility, you never know.”
As witnessed on July 23, having two Nyassis on the field can be a bit confusing, but having them on the same team would be a defender’s nightmare.