Settled in Columbus, Kekuta Manneh should provide boost down stretch

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VANCOUVER, B.C. – I don’t know if you can describe Saturday’s game in Vancouver as cathartic for Columbus Crew SC winger Kekuta Manneh, but it was certainly a match with a gamut of emotions for the 22-year-old.

When the Whitecaps traded Manneh to Crew SC in March for Tony Tchani, $310,000 in allocation money and future considerations, it caught many people by surprise, including the player himself, as he spoke about earlier in the week.

Manneh’s love for the city and the ‘Caps was made clear in the build-up to the match, but was there an element in him that wanted to prove to his old side that they’d made a mistake in letting him go?

“I think so,” Manneh admitted to reporters after the match. “It’s funny, as soon as I got to Columbus coach Greg [Berhalter] told me, ‘I think that they gave on you early. We know what you can do, that’s why we brought you here’.”

But this was a match that Manneh wasn’t sure he’d even be playing in, having seen just limited minutes in only one of Crew SC’s previous four games.

Berhalter gave the speedster only his ninth start of the season in Columbus colors. It paid off and despite his limited usage of Manneh so far, Berhalter says he’s still very much a big part of his plans as his side look to consolidate a playoff berth.

“I talked to him about how important he is to this team and about he is going to be able to make an impact down the stretch,” Berhalter told reporters. “And he showed it. I’m really happy for his performance.

“He’s a game-changer. His profile is a guy that in any instant can change the course of the game through his ability. It’s nice to see him get the opportunity, but then take advantage of it.”

Those limited minutes have led to some acknowledged frustrations for Manneh in Columbus. He’s had to learn to be patient and motivated to take every opportunity that comes his way, but now feels settled and ready to hit his best form at the business end of the season.

“Having to go to a different system, it was tough for me to break into the team,” Manneh mused. “I think it took me a while, but now I think I’m caught up to speed and I’m seeing the benefit. The way the team wants to play, and the team is adjusting to me with my style of play, and I’m adjusting to the team’s style of play. So I think it’s working now. Now it’s just getting opportunities and to help the team achieve their goals.”

Manneh could be a key player for Columbus down the stretch, but where his future will lie after this season is still very much up in the air. The winger is out of contract, and while his experience to date in Columbus hasn’t been all he’d have liked, he’s not ruling anything out just yet.

“I’m keeping all my options open,” Manneh said. “We’ll see what happens, but I want to explore. I want to go outside of my comfort zone. Do things that I’ve wanted to do since I started playing soccer and that’s to go and play in Europe. 

“But you never know. Sometimes things don’t work as planned. I could be here but I think individually, I want to go to Europe and explore and see what it’s all about… We have a few months to sort things out. I’m just trying to leave it alone right now and help the Crew win the MLS Cup.”

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