Kekuta Manneh finally breaks out for Crew SC with goal, assist vs. Montreal

COLUMBUS, Ohio – If Saturday’s 4-1 win over the Montreal Impact can right the ship for Columbus Crew SC, the club will have Kekuta Manneh to thank.

Since he was acquired from the Vancouver Whitecaps in late March, Manneh has been unable to make his mark for his new team, struggling to convince Gregg Berhalter to give him meaningful minutes and logging less than 250 in four appearances thus far.

But when Manneh came into the game in the 69th minute of Saturday’s win, he immediately changed his fortunes.

With his second touch of the match, Manneh scored the go-ahead goal to open his account, dropping to his knees, he said, to thank God on the final night of Ramadan and taking a moment to acknowledge the monkey that leaped off his back. Moments later, he added an assist to Ola Kamara.

“I’ve been searching for that since I’ve been here,” Manneh said after the match. “I’m here to help the team score goals, and today I played my part.”

Manneh was coming off of a difficult few weeks in an already-tumultuous season. Dealing with a foot injury that turned out to be a simple sprain, the winger thought briefly that he might miss an extended amount of time. But he was back a week later, and said the break was what he needed.

“Coming back from the injury scare I had, I had a long week off to think about … what I can do to help this team,” he said. “I’ve been here for 10 weeks now; I need to help this team in any way that I can. I was hungry.”

Berhalter said he had seen Manneh “working really hard,” and never doubted his commitment.

“We want guys to be frustrated when they’re not playing,” he said. “But then you have to show it on the training pitch – you have to want to improve. You have to want to address your weaknesses, strengthen your strengths … and he did that.”

Manneh’s last goal was almost exactly a year ago – June 25, 2016 – and the winger confessed he no idea it had been that long. But now, he said he has the “pressure off myself,” and is more focused on his teammates and the job at hand.

“I’m starting to enjoy the game more and more and being a part of this team,” he said.

For Berhalter, who could always use another attacking option, an in-form Manneh could be a very dangerous piece to add to the Columbus attack.

“Everyone is pulling for him,” he said. “We want to see him succeed. We brought him here for a very specific reason – to help the team in attacking areas – and the guys are pulling for him, the coaching staff is pulling for him. We all want him to find his form.”