In just his sixth game with Rovaniemen Palloseaura of the Finnish Primer League, better known as RoPS, Sainey Nyassi scored a goal. The tally was his first since June 26, 2011 when he scored against the Seattle Sounders as a member of the New England Revolution. In the three years that passed between professional goals, Nyassi was released by two clubs-the Revolution and D.C. United-partially because of his struggles with injuries.
As he ran over to the corner flag to celebrate, Nyassi was swarmed with emotions. Visions of the places he's been drifted through his mind. The memories of success and heartbreak made way for one overshadowing thought: he was back doing what he loves.
"I feel like I'm back," Nyassi revealed. "I feel like I'm a soccer player again. I'm back at my game, doing what I do best, what I love. I'm happy. I'm definitely happy. I'm going to keep going, keep pushing forward."
After playing professionally in Gambia, Nyassi made the jump to Major League Soccer shortly after the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup. Revolution head coach Stevie Nicol made the trip to Canada to watch Gambia play, something that was a bit surprising to Nyassi. After the African nation was ousted by Austria in Round of 16, Nyassi and teammate Abdoulie "Kenny" Mansally participated in a trial with the Revs.
Nyassi and Mansally had developed a friendship from a young age. Whether as teammates or opponents, the two players are always looking to help each other get better. Nyassi and Mansally were both signed by the Revs after their trial and lived together throughout their stay in New England.
Nyassi would make an immediate impact by helping create Pat Noonan's game-winning goal against the Carolina RailHawks in US Open Cup play. Coming less than a week after he signed, it was Nyassi's first-ever appearance with the Revs and the assist helped send the team to the tournament finals, which they would win. Nyassi was equally effective in his first league start as he scored a goal against the Houston Dynamo on March 29, 2008. It was a dream start for Nyassi.
"I have to show them what I can do and I did," Nyassi stated. "That's how I got my starting spot on the first team. My first game I had an assist. Everything kicked off from that Open Cup. It was a good experience."
An 18-year-old when he signed, Nyassi still had a lot of growing to do. The Gambian not only credited coach Nicol for helping him develop, but also veterans like Taylor Twellman, Steve Ralston and Noonan. Nyassi matured to become a regular starter for the Revolution, impressing people with his dynamic speed.
Although he would go on to make 103 appearances between 2007 and 2010, injuries plagued Nyassi during the 2011 and 2012 seasons. Even when he was healthy, however, he still found it difficult to get playing time. Former teammate Jay Heaps had replaced Nicol as coach and he often omitted Nyassi from the game day 18.
Many fans rallied behind Nyassi and took to Twitter to try to get Heaps to #FreeNyassi. The movement was ultimately a failure as the winger was waived on May 16, 2013 with only one appearance during the new regime. Still, Nyassi appreciated the passion and support exuded from fans.
"I always see it on Twitter and I definitely appreciated it," Nyassi reflected. "The fans were great because they believe in me and know what I can do. I was feeling the same way-I can definitely help the team."
Nyassi wasn't without work for long as he signed with DC United twelve days later being released. The club was amidst a wretched season, which was only salvaged by an Open Cup championship. Even though the results weren't positive, Nyassi still valued his time in the nation's capital.
"It was a good experience playing with [Dwayne] DeRosario, Chris Pontius, Carlos Ruiz and a lot of good players," Nyassi said. "I had fun there. I would love to go back there, but things didn't happen."
After being let go by DC, Nyassi returned home to Gambia to work out with the national team. He received offers from a few European teams, but a broken nose prevented him from accepting. The healing process took approximately two months, which made finding a team difficult because many leagues weren't in session. With so much time having elapsed since his last professional game, Nyassi was eager to play.
A fellow Gambia national team player suggested a move to RoPS and after a short trial Nyassi was offered a contract. He has since established himself as a starter and is once again using his speed to torment opponents. The team is currently dealing with a relegation battle, but will soon participate in the Europa League, something that Nyassi is excited about.
The future is unclear for Nyassi since his contract will expire at the end of the season. He is happy playing for RoPS in a league that he calls more technical than MLS, but also likes the idea of playing in Netherlands, Norway or even returning to the United States. Now 25 years old, there's still a lot of good years ahead for Nyassi, which is strange considering how long he's been a professional soccer player.
"It feels weird sometimes, but it's football," Nyassi said. "If you start at an early age that's what happens. You think you've been around forever. You think you feel old. Sometimes I feel old, but it's only been 10 years since I've started. I think it's fun. I love it."