MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – This week’s Minnesotan to Meet is a soccer star who never forgot where he came from.

Tony Sanneh played at Pele Soccer camp at age 12, had a World Cup appearance and played alongside David Beckham in L.A.

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Now, he’s returned to St. Paul and it’s what he is doing off the field that makes him this week’s Minnesotan to Meet.

From the field to friends to family, Sanneh credits his upbringing for his tremendous 17-year career on the field.

Soccer fans know his face from his appearance in the 2002 World Cup.

“When they do a close up on you during that game, a billion people around the world are watching you,” Sanneh said.

But people often have trouble with his name.

“Say your last name for me,” Jamie Yuccas said.

“Sanneh,” he said.

Should be easy enough, but turns out, it’s always been an issue.

“Where dad’s from it’s in Gambia West Africa, which it’s an English colony which is surrounded by a French colony, so even on the either side of the river the dialects are a little bit different,” Sanneh said.

His father met his mother, who is from Somerset, Wis., in Greece!

Eventually the family settled into St. Paul, where Sanneh grew up on the city’s soccer fields.

“I just re-read my 7th grade journal that I kept, and 90 percent of the stories were about soccer,” Sanneh said.

Sanneh also played basketball, track and tennis in high school, but always found himself turning his focus back to soccer.

“There was a group of us from 10-years-old to 19 that played together. And we won the national championship as 19-year-olds,” says Sanneh.

He went to college, playing in Milwaukee and then around the world.

“Three years in D.C., three years in Berlin, three years in Nuremberg, six months in Columbus, three years in Chicago, a summer in Denver, I retired for a year in Chicago and then came out of retirement and played one last year in Los Angles,” Sanneh said.

That last year is what most people ask him about, because of his famous teammate.

“Whose more handsome you or David Beckham?” Yuccas asked.

“I would say 99.999 percent people on this Earth would say David Beckham,” Sanneh said. “In the locker room he’s just like a regular guy and has kids and family. He just goes home with a body guard, that’s the only difference.”

Fanatical soccer fans remember a moment from the 2002 World Cup, when the USA took on Germany in the semi-finals.

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It’s a moment you’d think Sanneh would want to forget.

“I had a header that hit the outside of the bar, and everyone thought it was in,” Sanneh said. “A lot of times I’ll get pulled over and people will say, ‘I thought you scored, what if you had scored?’ It’s a would-a-should-a-could-a.”

Instead it became a teachable moment.

“As an athlete and a professional your job is to be consistent. That’s why we tell our kids, if you get up every day, do things the right way and prepare yourself, over the longevity of it if you’re consistent you’ll have a successful career,” Sanneh said.

The Sanneh Foundation was established in 2003, back in his hometown of St. Paul.

“I dream big, I think big. When I retired it was me and I had two friends come and live in my basement,” Sanneh said. “We started off with a $30,000 budget. Now, five years later, I have 50 full-time employees. We control three city blocks and we’re in seven St. Paul high schools and one Minneapolis high school.”

The foundation uses sports to empower troubled youth and unite diverse communities.

This summer the foundation will host 70 camps.

Another program places young people in local high schools and middle schools, where they act as mentors for at-risk youth.

Sanneh also works with the U.S. State Department in international communities to stop the recruitment of young terrorists.

“Sports and arts and culture teach you so much more than just winning or losing. They teach you how to stand in line, discipline, self-motivation,” Sanneh said.

All things Sanneh said he learned growing up in such a strong community.

“People ask me why I do what I do and it’s because of how I was raised,” Sanneh said.

With his work, he says he doesn’t need to be in a rush to get married, pointing out he’s already a strong male mentor to hundreds of kids.

“Make me a name tag and give me a hug,” Sanneh said. “They’ll make me a name tag and say ‘hi,’ and ask me questions. And it gives you energy and you’re a service to society,” Sanneh said.

And to Sanneh, that’s just as good as any play he scored on the field.

This Saturday you can help raise money for the foundation at the fifth annual event Gala for Goals.

It’s being held at the Depot in downtown Minneapolis.

Tickets are $150, but you can also buy an after-party ticket for just $35.

Sanneh said he really wants the event to be accessible in some way to everyone.

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The day after the gala, Sanneh will fly to Malaysia to teach youth soccer camps for the U.S. State Department. He goes into areas where youth can easily be recruited by terrorists and gangs and teaches them soccer and teamwork instead.