VANCOUVER, B.C. – Every team can always look back on their season and try to identify the turning points; those games or those incidents where it all started to go wrong, or conversely, when it all clicked into place.
When Kekuta Manneh went off injured in the first half of Vancouver Whitecaps’ Western Conference semifinal second leg against Portland last season, you felt the ‘Caps playoff hopes departed with him, and so it proved.
It’s hard not to look at Vancouver’s 2016 season and feel that the turning point for them came on July 9, when Manneh went off injured just before half time in the home game against Colorado Rapids, with what is now looking like a season-ending broken fifth metatarsal bone in his right foot.
The Whitecaps have won only twice in the 13 matches since Manneh’s injury, and have been kept off the scoresheet in eight of those. The pacey winger's presence has been sorely missed.
"I think it didn't help," ‘Caps coach Carl Robinson admitted to MLSsoccer.com. "He's a key attacking piece for us. Kekuta went down at the same time as we sold Octavio Rivero to Colo Colo. So losing two starting pieces at the same time didn't help. What Kekuta brings to us is something that we've been missing in the last 10 games or so."
Robinson doesn’t feel it’s been the single biggest blow to his side’s playoff hopes. But he did lose a vital aspect of his attacking game, and recent results speak for themselves.
Aside from perhaps his influential goalkeeper David Ousted, Manneh – who was just named to his second straight top five position in MLS’ 24 Under 24 list – was the player the ‘Caps could least afford to be without. And Robinson knows just what the speedster means to his team.
"He an exceptional young talent," Robinson said. "He's got an attacking prowess about him where he has defenders on the back foot. He's obviously got pace, he brings a goal element. He's got five goals this year. When we've struggled for goals recently, over the last couple of games, he would have been a nice addition to have.
"He has been a big loss for us, for someone so young. But he's been playing now for four seasons for us, so he's got experience as well, and he's different. He fits into the league very well, so he has been a very big loss to us."
The Whitecaps have four games left in the regular season and as things stand, with Vancouver’s playoff hopes all but extinguished, fans won’t be seeing Manneh in action again until next year.
If the ‘Caps can pull off a great escape and make the postseason, then there is a chance that Manneh will be ready, but he won’t be risked for the sake of getting him on the pitch if Vancouver have nothing left to play for.
"He's still a few weeks away, to be honest," Robinson revealed. "In the next two weeks, we'll see [where we stand in the playoff race]. Hopefully he'll be back [soon]. He has been missed by us. It's given other players an opportunity, but it is what is. Everyone deals with injuries.
"You can either sulk about it and use it as an excuse or you can get on with it. We've got on with it. We have missed him, but he's a good player, so that's the reason we've missed him."