Gambian-born Kekuta Manneh, a permanent resident of the United States, pondering international future

Manneh: "I'll just have to decide what's best for me"

Kekuta Manneh closeup

Photo Credit: 
Bob Frid/Vancouver Whitecaps FC

VANCOUVER, BC – Like every young soccer player, Kekuta Manneh dreams of one day playing in the FIFA World Cup – as if that’s a revelation. The World Cup is often described as the pinnacle of a soccer player’s career.

And with the 2014 FIFA World Cup underway, it’s no surprise that Manneh has been putting a little more thought into his international aspirations than he normally would. Part of that involves the question of what country he’ll represent on the international stage.

He could have some options.  

There’s Gambia, his birth country. Or the United States of America, where he settled with an adoptive family at the age of 15. 

“It would be great if I was given the chance to represent either country,” said Manneh, who’s rooting for England, the United States, and all the African countries in this year’s World Cup. “If I’m given that opportunity, I’ll have to do what I feel comfortable with. I really won’t let anyone influence me. I’ll just have to decide what’s best for me.”

It’d be hard to fault him either way.

Manneh, 19, was born and raised in Bakau, Gambia – the smallest country on mainland Africa. It’s where he grew up and established a passion for the beautiful game. He recalls playing soccer every day, either on dirt roads or the beach.

Though Manneh hasn’t been back to Gambia since moving to the United States, he still has many friends and family there, including his father, brothers, and grandparents. His birth mother passed away when he was 10 years old.

Manneh has played for Gambia at the U-13 and U-14 levels, but never since then. He was called up to the U-20 team earlier this year, but couldn’t participate due to injury.

“It would be great to play for my nation,” Manneh said. “Everybody has been texting me, messaging me on Facebook, and calling me and all that stuff … they hope that I play for the Gambian national team some day.”

At the same time, Manneh has called the United States home for about four years now – he came over in 2010 to join the Houston-based Texas Rush. LaRhonda Niccum, the team’s manager, and her husband Eric welcomed Manneh into their family’s home and eventually adopted him.

They now all live together in Austin, Texas. It’s where Manneh spends his offseasons – he also went back last week during Whitecaps FC’s one-week World Cup break.

“I definitely consider the U.S. to be a home,” said Manneh, who has a U.S. Green Card and figures he’s about a year and a half away from getting citizenship. “I’m really, really thankful and really grateful for the life I have in the U.S. I thank my parents for that and everyone that’s been involved that’s helped me and really invested in me since I moved to the States.”

“If I hadn’t met these people, my life wouldn’t have turned out the way it did,” added Manneh, who knows he’d get more exposure playing for the U.S. “I think about that a lot. It’s God’s will that I met them. Everything happens for a reason.”

If it comes down to having to choose between Gambia and the United States, Manneh said he knows it would be a “tough decision.” But it’s a decision he’s not losing any sleep over.

Gambia is currently in the midst of a two-year suspension from international competition. There has been some interest from the U.S. U-23 team, Manneh said, but he isn’t eligible to play for them until he obtains his citizenship.

At any rate, Manneh said he’s not worried about his international future at this stage of his career. Right now, his focus is squarely on “progressing with the ‘Caps.”

After getting selected fourth overall by Whitecaps FC in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft, the always-dangerous winger/striker scored six goals and added a pair of assists in 20 appearances as a rookie. His 0.71 goals-per-90-minute rate was fifth best in the league among players with at least 10 appearances.

This season, Manneh has picked up three goals and one assist while appearing in 12 of Vancouver’s 13 league fixtures. Though his dream of one day playing in a World Cup remains strong, right now Manneh said there’s no place he’d rather be.

“Everybody here has been nice, supportive, and really helpful,” he said. “I love it. The team is just fantastic. Every individual on the team from the staff to the players, everybody has been really, really, really, really nice. And I love the city too. Vancouver is one of the best cities I’ve lived in. I couldn’t have gone to a better place in MLS.”

It’s not too late to participate in the best sporting experience in Vancouver. Whitecaps FC offer a flexible range of ticket products, including prorated season tickets ($220), 5-packs ($149), student season tickets, and a youth soccer half-season ticket. Single-match tickets start at $22, subject to applicable fees. For more information on all Whitecaps FC ticket options, call 604.669.9283 ext. 2 or visit whitecapsfc.com/tickets.