VANCOUVER, BC – About a month ago, Vancouver Whitecaps FC head athletic trainer Jake Joachim pulled rookie Kekuta Manneh aside on the team bus in Kansas City to discuss the weeks ahead.
These types of occurrences aren’t uncommon for a young player trying to find his way in a new league and new city, but this one had a different feel.
Knowing Manneh is a practicing Muslim, Joachim asked the young Gambian whether or not he’d be fasting during the month of Ramadan.
“I said, ‘Yeah it’s really important to me,’” Manneh told whitecapsfc.com.
“They didn’t put any pressure on me,” he added. “They support me.”
Manneh, 18, is nearing the end of the month-long fasting period during which – in his words – Muslims concentrate on “doing everything holy” as a demonstration of their commitment towards God.
Manneh's teammate Aminu Abdallah, who is from Accra, Ghana, is also taking part.
“You can’t do anything unholy,” said Manneh, Vancouver’s first-round selection in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft. “Everything about you has to be fasting. You don’t have to lie about anything. You have to be honest. Everything about you has to be holy.”
Ramadan, the month in which Muslims believe the Qur’an was revealed, started July 10 in North America and concludes this Wednesday, August 7.
During that period, the native of Bakau, Gambia has abstained from eating and drinking between the hours of 5:30 a.m. and 9 p.m. almost every day.
“It is difficult,” said Manneh, who prays at a mosque near his apartment regularly. “Not able to eat the whole day and you have a game … it’s pretty exhausting and tiring.”
It hasn’t showed.
Coincidentally, the first-year winger has strung together some of his strongest performances of the season over the last three weeks. After not seeing any MLS game action for nearly a month, Manneh made an immediate impact July 14 vs. the Chicago Fire as a second-half substitute.
Manneh scores his second goal of the season
First, he helped set up Camilo’s second goal of the afternoon with a clever through-ball before adding an insurance marker of his own to seal the victory.
Manneh’s strong play hasn’t wavered since then, and he was rewarded with his first start since the March 2 season opener Saturday at Portland. It was also his season-high fourth straight appearance.
“He’s been doing well,” head coach Martin Rennie told whitecapsfc.com earlier in the week. “Kekuta is continuing to improve and get better. He’s understanding the game more and more and we’re really pleased with his progress.”
Growing up in Gambia, where about 90 per cent of the population is Muslim, Manneh says he has fasted during Ramadan to some extent for as long as he can remember. As a young child, he fasted for about four hours a day. Gradually, that period of time became longer – and longer.
“You get used to it, but some days you don’t have energy at all,” he said.
The last month hasn’t been easy for Manneh, but he’s been in constant communication with the club nutritionist and fitness staff to help manage his health.
Every day, Manneh wakes up between 4:30 and 5 a.m. to get in a good meal and drink plenty of fluids. It’s the same routine at night. Chicken and rice has been his go-to meal. Before bed, he supplements his supper with a variety of snacks, like fruit or yogurt.
Meanwhile, Manneh continues to train with the first team four days a week. Playing under the bright lights in front of thousands of supporters at BC Place will give you an extra boost. Grueling morning training sessions at UBC don’t always have the same effect.
That’s where he has really leaned on his teammates and coaches as a source of motivation.
“Everyone has been [supportive],” he said. “They understand that I’ve been fasting, so they’ve been pushing me a lot at practice to give everything I can and don’t hold anything back.”
And apparently, it’s been working.