Arsenal and Liverpool-linked Kekuta Manneh shows flashes of brilliance in MLS opener

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The Gambian forward put in a dazzling first-half performance in the Vancouver Whitecaps' 3-1 home defeat to Toronto FC.

After a tough 2014 season, Kekuta Manneh’s first appearance of the new MLS campaign has instilled renewed hope that the Vancouver Whitecaps forward could be set for a huge breakout.

Aged 20, Manneh established himself as one of the league’s most exciting prospects during his rookie season after being taken fourth overall in the 2013 SupderDraft, becoming the first-ever teenager to score a hat-trick in MLS during a 4-1 win over the Seattle Sounders.

Making six starts in 20 appearances, while netting six times, his exciting performances saw him linked to the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea that winter, per the Daily Star, and created high expectations for his second season.

What followed, however, was a somewhat underwhelming 2014, full of glimpses of grandeur but also frustration, as the Gambian winger often had to settle for the role of a super sub, earning just 13 starts with four goals.

Nevertheless, with time on his side, head coach Carl Robinson has continued to reiterate that he has few concerns over his star prospect and, if the weekend’s clash with Canadian rivals Toronto FC was anything to go by, then Manneh could be set to take a big step forward.

While the Whitecaps would fall 3-1, the promising wide man gave the visitors’ defence a torrid time throughout the first-half with his pace and skill and, while he would slow after the break, his showing still left Robinson hailing his impact at the final whistle.

“First 45 minutes, he was fantastic, without obviously scoring the goal,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “You have ups and downs. On Saturday the first half was an up. The second half was a down, for the group. He’s no different to any other player, but boy, when he’s on he’s exciting to watch."

Manneh himself labelled the performance the best of his career, but admits that he is still making the transition from super sub to starter.

"It will take a while to get used to it, get that game fitness going," he said. "I've worked hard in the preseason and the offseason, and I feel really fit. It'll take a few more games to get there to 90 minutes fitness, so it'll take a little while.

"But I thought [Saturday] was the best performance I've had so far," he continued. "Definitely I need to score goals. I need to score as much as I can. I feel like I'm a good finisher. I have a lot of chances in the games, I just need to put my head down and finish them. I think I need to improve that in my game."

Certainly, if Manneh can start adding more goals to his name, then there’s no doubt that major Premier League clubs will soon come calling for his services given the flashes of brilliance he has shown thus far.

He has already trained with both Chelsea and Liverpool prior to entering MLS, as well as seen Arsenal scouts watch him in action while starring on the development circuit in Texas, and those sides should be keeping a close watch on him over the coming months.

If now-Tottenham Hotspur right-back DeAndre Yedlin can earn a high-profile move across the Atlantic, then there’s little reason to think that Manneh couldn’t either.

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