VANCOUVER, B.C. – You couldn't have scripted it any better.
Five and a half months after their surprise trade, Kekuta Manneh and Tony Tchani took to the BC Place pitch to play against their former sides for the first time. And both played an important role in an entertaining, end-to-end 2-2 draw between the Vancouver Whitecaps and Columbus Crew SC.
It was an emotional match for both players, and both rose to the occasion by finding the back of the net. Manneh hit a 25-yard screamer to give Columbus a 63rd-minute lead, and Tchani dug out a leveller two minutes into stoppage time to salvage a dramatic late point for the Western Conference leaders.
"I think it's fitting," 'Caps coach Carl Robinson told reporters after the match. "I know what Kekuta can do. I have a great relationship with the boy and I think he showed today moments of brilliance. I've seen it time and time again [from him] in training and I didn't want to see it again today, but I did.
"Happy for him but happy for Tony as well. Tony's come up big for us a number of times this year. He might not get the plaudits that maybe Kekuta does, but he certainly should today."
Manneh and Tchani have experienced differing fortunes since their moves. Both players notched their fourth goals of the season in Saturday's draw, but while Tchani has made 23 appearances for Vancouver and become a pivotal part of the Whitecaps midfield, Manneh has struggled for playing time, left on the outside looking in for much of the season so far.
The start in Vancouver was Manneh's first for Crew SC in their last five matches.
Manneh certainly shone against his old team, coming away with a goal and assist in his 70 minutes on the pitch. Despite the importance of his go-ahead strike to Columbus' playoff hopes, Manneh refrained from celebrating his strike against Vancouver, as the emotions of it all started to sink in.
"I was really excited coming back to Vancouver," he said after the match. "The city gave me everything I had and everything that I am today. I basically grew up here and I consider it a home here as well. It was emotional coming down. Different, being in different colors, but it was fun.
"It was a bit emotional. I tried to calm myself down and my teammates helped me with that.... I was never celebrating in Vancouver. I ran and then I realized, ‘oh wow, we're playing in Vancouver.’ I couldn't do that. I just have so much respect for this city and the fans."
Manneh's goal looked to have given Columbus a huge three points. But former Crew SC stalwart Tchani had other ideas, firing home a loose ball in the box in the 92nd minute to earn Vancouver a share of the points and keep them at the top of the Western Conference standings, at least for now.
Like Manneh, Tchani didn't celebrate, although he nearly lost himself in the moment of euphoria that such a last-ditch goal naturally brings a scorer.
"When I scored, I didn't realize I was playing against my former team," Tchani told reporters. "When I took three steps and I realized, I stopped and showed respect. I was there for six years. I felt I owed them respect.
"I'm that guy, I don't try to get any pressure. I'm trying not to put any pressure on myself because these games can either go very well or very bad, so I just needed to make sure I did the little things right."