Without jerseys, cleats or black-and-white balls to kick around, the soccer players at the Sanneh Foundation Gala 4 Goals still focused their energy on winning -- but this time, it was for kids.

The Eden Prairie-based nonprofit was started by Tony Sanneh, a St. Paul native who played professional soccer, including with the Minnesota Thunder, Los Angeles Galaxy, Chicago Power and the U.S. National Team. After retiring from the sport in 2009, Sanneh committed himself full-time to his foundation's community and school partnerships, which use soccer as a tool. Through mentoring and soccer clubs, they hope to prepare youths for future success.

For Sanneh, giving back to the community was a natural progression following his athletic career. "In the tight-knit soccer community, you learn from the people above you," he said. "I ended up on the end where I was at the top of the food chart, helping the younger players."

He also thinks that soccer, the world's most popular sport, can really connect people. "As long as you can jog, you can play," he said. "Everyone can appreciate the spirit of the game -- it's been known to bring the world together."

Sara Glassman • 612-673-7177