Vancouver Whitecaps coaxing growth, consistency from "big-game player" Kekuta Manneh

VANCOUVER, B.C. – When Kekuta Manneh hit the Vancouver Whitecaps' match-winner against the LA Galaxy on June 6, it marked the 'Caps first-ever road victory over the defending MLS Cup champions.

For Manneh himself, though, it was just the latest of a series of goals and top performances against the top teams in MLS.

Now in his third season in Vancouver, Manneh has netted 12 goals in 63 regular-season appearances for the Whitecaps. Seven of that dozen have come against the Galaxy and the Seattle Sounders, garnering the winger a reputation as a player who rises to the big occasions and matches.

"I don't know [why that is], but they're big games, definitely," Manneh admitted at training on Monday. "Everybody wants to come in and be a big hero for those big games. It just happens and it just happens to be those two teams. I enjoy it."

There's been no doubting the young Gambian's potential since he made the move to MLS as an 18-year-old. The issue for Manneh and the Whitecaps is finding a way to turn the corner and produce those games on a much more regular basis, and not just against the best sides in the league.

It's a breakthrough many have been waiting to see happen, and that includes his coach, Carl Robinson.

"It's about his consistency levels," Robinson told reporters. "Against Colorado, three or four games ago, he had a very difficult game and I sat down and explained why I thought that. He took it on board and his response was excellent after coming on off the bench against Salt Lake.

"He followed it up with a very strong performance against Montreal, without a goal, and he did it last Saturday against LA, with a goal. Nothing will change with me and him. He'll keep his feet on the ground and we'll just work with him on a daily basis, as we will with all our players."

Manneh has only managed to string together back-to-back scoring games once in his MLS career so far, and that was at the tail end of his rookie season in 2013.

It's been frustrating for both coach and player, but they've been working hard to try and find the right switch to turn on Manneh's consistency.

"Definitely, now I have that in my hands," Manneh said. "I need to work as hard as I can in practice and hopefully maintain the same performance week in, week out. I know it's going to be difficult, having so many games, but we'll see what happens. I'm definitely going to try to stay at the same level." 

Manneh can be an exciting player to watch, and deadly for opponents to defend. If he can find that consistency, and add further dimensions to his game, he could be Vancouver's biggest weapon.

But for now, it may be that the Whitecaps' best utilization of the winger is that of a situational player, starting against certain teams and being an impact sub against others. 

"I think so, without a doubt," responded Robinson. "That's the reason you have a squad in this game and I've certainly built a squad that I think are capable. People ask me why I freshen it up in certain areas, at certain times, and that's the reason. 

"Some teams are able to compete, or react well, against certain players [like Kekuta] in the team. We've got a different blend of players in the squad this year and we're able to adapt to whatever we want."