VANCOUVER, B.C. — With three goals and two assists in his last three matches, Kekuta Manneh seems to be firing on all cylinders after a slow start to 2016.
And Carl Robinson expects him to stay there.
“Coach told me, 'This is the standard that you set yourself, we're not going to let you off now,'” Manneh told reporters. “We expect this week in, week out. Hopefully I can maintain that and be that person for the city.”
Consistency has been a challenge for the now 21-year-old Manneh in his four seasons in MLS, as it is for most young players. There’s been apparent breakout games and performances in the past, but he’s never fully built on them. It’s a fact both he and Robinson have noted, but Manneh feels his game is changing and improving all the time.
“The past couple of years [my biggest improvement] has definitely been the decision making,” Manneh said. “I remember growing up, all the teams that I've played in it was, 'Give Kekuta the ball and just run with it, dribble people, score.' Having that mentality coming here, I did that the first couple of years. Then I found out you use a lot of energy going forward, not knowing when to slow the game down and keep the position.”
“It's very difficult because I've been doing that throughout my youth career,” he continued. “To get adjusted to that it was pretty difficult. It's taken a couple of years but now I understand it better and the coaches have been helping me with that, as well as my teammates.”
An interesting aspect to Manneh’s recent success is his new position, less on the wing and more as a forward alongside or just behind Erik Hurtado.
It’s a position he previously excelled in but hasn’t played much since his time in the PDL with the Austin Aztex. For Manneh himself, the priority is to play somewhere for the team.
“Yeah, I enjoy it if I'm playing with another person and play two up top,” Manneh admits. “Since I've been here I quite enjoy playing on the left side, on the wing. I don't really have a preference.”
Manneh’s recent success has caught the attention of U.S national team fans and pundits.
The Gambia native, who was adopted by a Texas-based family, is currently applying for American citizenship. It's been a long process, but one which is approaching an end.
So what is the status for his citizenship quest right now?
“Pretty good actually,” Manneh said. "We've just confirmed that I have all the days that I need to apply. We're just waiting for all the paperwork to be done and then I apply and then have to wait for the announcement. September is the timeframe it will come out if I apply now.”
Manneh has previously indicated that he is still keeping his options open between playing for the U.S. and his native Gambia. U.S. national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has made it clear that he is keen to make the winger part of his plans going forward, and has been keeping in touch with Manneh by text for several months now.
“He checks in every once in a while,” Manneh revealed. “Just to see how things are going, how the process is going as well. I think I last talked to him maybe a month ago, asking about the process and when exactly when it was scheduled to come out and just plan ahead. But yeah, he's been in touch.”
As excited as he is by the prospect of playing international football, Manneh was keen to caution that being fast-tracked for selection to the USMNT may or may not be in the cards.
“I think that is too soon to hope for,” Manneh said. “I just want to go through the process. Get the passport in my hand first of all and then we can see what happens."
Watch Manneh and the 'Caps in action on Saturday vs. Houston Dynamo (3 p.m. PT at BC Place - tickets still available).
Be a part of the best sporting atmosphere in Vancouver! Whitecaps FC offer a flexible range of ticket products, including Half-Season Packs, 5-Packs, a Youth Soccer Half-Season Ticket, and single match tickets. For more information, visit whitecapsfc.com/tickets.