SuperDraft day always has its eyebrow-raising moments, and the Vancouver Whitecaps certainly provided one on Thursday, picking an 18-year-old Gambian that few had pencilled in as a top-five selection.
In order to snap up Kekuta Manneh, the Whitecaps traded their No. 10 pick and allocation money to Toronto FC for the fourth overall pick.
“I looked at the mock drafts and they didn’t have my name at the fourth, fifth pick, so the Whitecaps picking me at No. 4 was a surprise,” Manneh told reporters in a conference call on Thursday. “It obviously boosts my morale and gives me confidence now. I have an edge and I’m going to try and use that and I think it will help me a lot.”
While Manneh and many others had an eye on mock drafts and projections, Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie suggested they’re more a tool for talking heads rather than for those involved in the game directly.
“Within the coaching ranks, I think a lot of people are less surprised than maybe analysts were," Rennie added, "but for us we’re a club that really believes in developing young talent and helping them progress and become as high level players as we possibly can help them be, and we see that in Kekuta that he has that ability to do that.
“Picking him at that point was because we didn’t think he would be available later.”
Manneh is a pacy striker who plied his trade with the Austin Aztex of the Premier Development League (PDL), scoring 12 goals and adding nine assists in 13 appearances last season. With the Whitecaps, he may find himself as a wide attacker on either flank in Rennie’s favored 4-5-1-cum-4-3-3.
“It gives us options, especially if we want to play with a front three,” Rennie said. “We have young player options with Omar [Salgado], with Darren [Mattocks], with Camilo. It’s exciting to think that we’ve got quality and pace in that final third. … Speed is something you can’t coach and we’ve got that.”
The club followed Manneh’s selection by acquiring 22-year-old Erik Hurtado, a right-sided attacking player who scored 15 goals and added seven assists with Santa Clara University in his final college season.
Like Manneh, Hurtado has pace to burn, and came in the top five in two-thirds of MLS combine speed tests. The Beaverton, Ore., resident sounded a bit sheepish when asked how Portland Timbers fans would react to the news given the proximity of that franchise to his hometown – but decisively concluded his answer with the correct response.
“When I grew up, they didn’t have the MLS team, so I didn’t have an opportunity to be a fan,” Hurtado said. “As of right now, my No. 1 team is Vancouver Whitecaps.”
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.