Robinson on Manneh: 'He's a major player for us'

Manneh returns to full training, puts "smiles on faces"

Kekuta Manneh Training - water bottle

Photo Credit: 
Farhan Devji/Vancouver Whitecaps FC

VANCOUVER, BC – At 19 years old, Kekuta Manneh is still one of the youngest players on Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s Major League Soccer roster.

In fact, his roommate Sam Adekugbe is the only player who is younger – by less than a month.

Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson has spoken repeatedly about the abundance of young talent at his disposal and Manneh certainly falls within that category.

That’s one of the reasons why the ‘Caps manager lit up when asked about Manneh after training Friday at the University of British Columbia, but it wasn’t the only one.

Head coach Carl Robinson talks Manneh, training, and more

“He puts smiles on faces in the squad and he walks around with a big smile on his face,” Robinson told reporters. “Everyone knows he has ability. He’s a major player for us this year. He’s going to get a lot of time and he’ll be given a lot of chances.”

If there’s a youth movement in Vancouver this season, Manneh may just be the poster boy.

The second-year striker/winger, who has been dealing with a couple niggling injuries, participated in his first full training session on Friday. Robinson said there’s a chance Manneh could see time in a friendly against the University of Victoria Vikes on Sunday, but he won’t be rushed into the lineup.

“We’ve still got another three weeks to go,” Robinson said. “He’s young, so he’ll catch up very quickly.”

Although Manneh said he’s still working to get up to speed from a fitness perspective, getting back onto the training pitch for a full session was a good first step.

“It’s great to be back here with all the guys,” said Manneh, who had six goals and two assists in 20 MLS appearances last season. “I’m really excited. We’re stepping it up and working hard to get back to where I was.”

That’s a player who scored four goals in Vancouver’s final three matches last season. Three of those goals came in a historic 4-1 win over Seattle Sounders FC, when Manneh became the youngest player in MLS history to record a hat-trick.  

Now, as Manneh enters his second season in MLS, the 19-year-old said he wants to score more goals and be a “big player for the team.” And that aligns with Robinson’s vision for him.  

Asked what he expects from Manneh this season, Robinson was frank in his response.

“A lot,” he said. “More than I saw last year. And that’s the demands I’m putting on all the players. With the talent he has, like a number of our other young players, it’s important that we let them play with a free and open mind. If they do that, they’re able to express their own abilities in the attacking areas of the field.”

As for where Robinson plans to use the young Gambian, the ‘Caps manager said there are two or three different possibilities. He could play as a winger, as an attacking midfielder behind the striker, or as part of a two-striker tandem.

“I think he has natural talent. Wherever he plays, he’ll excite people and cause the opposition problems,” Robinson said. “I’m just taking it one step at a time. It’s nice to have him back in training.”

News and notes from training

  • There was a new face on the field on Friday, as the 'Caps were joined by training camp invite Caniggia Elva. Elva is a 17-year-old attacking midfielder who was born in Saint Lucia but currently resides in Calgary. 
  • Kenny Miller (quad) and Mackenzie Pridham (ankle) did some light work with club physiotherapist Graeme Poole on Friday, as they both continue to recover from their respective injuries. 
  • The 'Caps will train again on Saturday at Musqueam Park before departing for Victoria, where they will meet the University of Victoria Vikes in a friendly on Sunday.

Whitecaps FC begin their 2014 MLS season on March 8 versus New York Red Bulls at BC Place. Season tickets start at just $349, subject to applicable fees. The 'Caps also offer a flexible range of ticket products, including half-season tickets ($244), 5-packs ($149), student season tickets ($199), and a youth soccer half-season ticket ($100). For more information on all Whitecaps FC ticket options, call 604.669.9283 ext. 2 or visit whitecapsfc.com/tickets.