VANCOUVER, B.C.—Last week was a great one for the Vancouver Whitecaps: With a nine-point haul from their three matches, the ’Caps shot up the standings. Amongst the great team performance was a fantastic individual one from Kekuta Manneh that earned him MLS Player of the Week plaudits.
Manneh grabbed two goals and two assists in the home victory against Chicago and then on the road in Toronto and looked back to his best after some early struggles. ’Caps coach Carl Robinson puts a lot of that down to the winger missing most of the preseason, as he came back from an ankle injury.
Now that Manneh seems to be firing on all cylinders once more, Robinson expects him to stay there.
"Coach told me after the game, 'This is the standard that you set yourself, we're not going to let you off now,'" Manneh told reporters at Whitecaps training on Wednesday. ”We expect this week in, week out. Hopefully I can maintain that and be that person for the city."
Consistency has been an issue for Manneh in his four seasons in MLS. There’s been apparent breakout games and performances in the past, but he’s never fully built on them.
It’s a fact both he and Robinson have noted, but Manneh feels his game is changing and improving all the time.
"The past couple of years [my biggest improvement] has definitely been the decision making,” Manneh said. “I remember growing up, all the teams that I've played in it was 'Give Kekuta the ball and just run with it, dribble people, score.' Having that mentality coming here, I did that the first couple of years. Then I found out you use a lot of energy going forward, not knowing when to slow the game down and keep the position.
“It's very difficult because I've been doing that throughout my youth career. To get adjusted to that it was pretty difficult. It's taken a couple of years but now I understand it better and the coaches have been helping me with that, as well as my teammates."
An interesting aspect to Manneh’s success against Toronto was playing in a different role, less on the wing and more as a forward alongside Erik Hurtado.
It’s a position he was previously excellent in but hasn’t played since his time in the PDL with the Austin Aztex. His former manager there, Paul Dalglish, has said he feels that is Manneh’s best position. For Manneh himself, the priority is to play somewhere for the team.
"Yeah, I enjoy it if I'm playing with another person and play two up top," Manneh admits. "Since I've been here I quite enjoy playing on the left side, on the wing. I don't really have a preference. I enjoy playing [up top]. I haven't played there in a while. I came in to play there last game a little bit but if I play there a few more games I think I'll get used to it again."
Whenever Manneh has a great performance for the Whitecaps, US national team fans sit up and take notice.
Manneh is currently applying for American citizenship. It's been a long process, but one which is approaching an end. So what is the status for his citizenship quest right now?
"Pretty good actually," Manneh said. "We've just confirmed that I have all the days that I need to apply. We're just waiting for all the paperwork to be done and then I apply and then have to wait for the announcement. September is the timeframe it will come out if I apply now."
Manneh has previously indicated that he is still keeping his options open between playing for the US and his native Gambia. But before American fans worry too much about losing out on the young talent, US national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has made it clear that he is keen to make the winger part of his plans going forward, and has been keeping in touch with Manneh by text for several months now.
"He checks in every once in a while," Manneh revealed. "Just to see how things are going, how the process is going as well. I think I last talked to him maybe a month ago, asking about the process and when exactly when it was scheduled to come out and just plan ahead. But yeah, he's been in touch."
US fans hoping to see Manneh in an American jersey before the year is out may have to wait, though. As excited as he is by that very prospect, Manneh was keen to caution that being fast-tracked for selection to the USMNT may or may not be in the cards.
"I think that is too soon to hope for," Manneh said. "I just want to go through the process. Get the passport in my hand first of all and then we can see what happens. It's interesting to see. Every player is hoping to get called up for national teams, so I'll be ready when I get the passport."