Columbus Crew SC happy to add versatile attacker Kekuta Manneh

In acquiring winger Kekuta Manneh from the Vancouver Whitecaps, Columbus Crew SC boss Gregg Berhalter said the club has been immediately upgraded.

To acquire the promising 22-year-old speedster, who became a US citizen in January, Columbus had to give up veteran midfielder Tony Tchani, $225,000 in Targeted Allocation Money and $75,000 in General Allocation Money.

But for Berhalter, that cost pales in comparison to what the team is receiving. He compared the deal to Minnesota United’s acquisition of Kevin Molino for $650,000 in allocation money and the Chicago Fire’s acquisition of Dax McCarty for $400,000 in allocation money.

“It’s all relative,” he said in a conference call Thursday afternoon. “If you look at what we’d have to pay for a 22-year-old, one of the most prolific and dynamic players in a league in Europe or South America, it would cost us much more.”

Berhalter said he expects Manneh to “challenge for minutes right away,” but breaking into the starting lineup won’t be an easy task in Columbus. The Crew SC attack already features Ola Kamara, Justin Meram, Federico Higuain and Ethan Finlay.

But the Crew SC boss said Manneh’s speed and versatility mean he’s likely to see the field.

“He can play any of the top four attacking positions,” Berhalter said. “He’s probably not a No. 10, but we could play a way that we could get him involved in the attack as a second striker or No. 9 or No. 7 or No. 11.”

Manneh is in the final year of his current contract, and if Columbus re-sign him, they’ll send a first-round draft pick to Vancouver as well. And according to Berhalter, contract talks aren’t far away.

“We want to bring him here; we want to show him what this club is about,” Berhalter said. “We want him to be able to make a good impact and then we can talk about re-signing him. I think those conversations will start happening sooner rather than later.”

Berhalter said he spoke to Manneh on the phone, and said he did his research with people who knew or coached the winger. While he said he didn’t ask him whether he was expecting the trade, he hinted that it may not have been expected.

“I know that he was processing it all, so that makes me think that it did come maybe out of the blue for him,” Berhalter said. “But I also heard a lot of excitement in his voice and he said he’d been following our team for a while and was excited to be added.”

Tchani had yet to even make the gameday 18 for Crew SC this season, but Berhalter said he wasn’t necessarily planning to deal the midfielder, who made 120 MLS appearances for Columbus. But with newly acquired central midfielders Artur and Mohammed Abu impressing Berhalter early, the coach and sporting director pulled the trigger when he was offered Manneh.

“Unless something that was there that made sense for our club and was really going to improve our club, we weren’t going to do anything,” he said. “When this opportunity presented itself, we thought that we could immediately improve the team by doing this deal.”