Vancouver Whitecaps winger Kekuta Manneh has endured a tough second season in the pro ranks but, after being linked to several Premier League powerhouses last winter, few doubt the Gambian speedster’s potential.
Aged 19, Manneh was drafted fourth-overall in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft, before going on to make six starts in 20 appearances during his rookie season, scoring a hat-trick in a 4-1 win over the Seattle Sounders in October to become the first teenager to ever record such a feat in MLS.
Netting a total of six times in 2013, while dazzling during the final run-in, the Whitecaps star’s exciting performances saw him linked with a move to Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea at the close of the season, with expectations high for the coming campaign.
He hasn’t quite pushed on as some had hoped since, managing just three goals on the season, but a recent cameo in the 2-1 home win over Real Salt Lake, in which he came on for the final 13 minutes to set up Pedro Morales’ late winner, served to demonstrate his game-changing abilities.
Veteran defender Andy O’Brien has developed a close bond as a mentor for the youngster over the past two seasons and, despite his recent struggles, still has confidence in him to fulfil his enormous potential.
‘We've all got belief in him’ he told The Province. ‘I've said, and I hope I don't get made to eat my words, that he's got the world at his feet. I said that early on and he demonstrated [on Saturday against RSL] in a short period, probably within 30 seconds of coming on, how good a player he is.
‘He's young, but being at a professional club in an adult environment at the age of 18, 19, is going to bode well for the future. He's demonstrated in flashes this season how good he is and it's maybe this time of the season that he seems to come into form.’
Head Coach Carl Robinson echoed those sentiments and, with the Whitecaps in the midst of a battle to make the post-season with four regular-season matches left, believes Manneh can prove an important contributor during the crucial final run-in.
‘Kekuta hasn’t [gone] anywhere. Sometimes with young players they just have confidence-level bursts and spurts,’ he said.
‘He’s followed it up with a very good training week as well. Kekuta will play at some stage of the game. And if he can continue to play at those levels, he’s not only exciting to watch, but he’ll be a nightmare to play against.’
Premier League interest is something which isn’t new to Manneh, having trained with both Chelsea and Liverpool before entering MLS, as well as seeing Arsenal scouts track is progress while starring on the developmental circuit in Texas.
It remains to be seen just how far he can go in the game but, as one of the US domestic scene's brightest prospects, big things are expected going forward.