Rookie Kekuta Manneh brings a different dimension to Vancouver’s attack

VANCOUVER, BC – While Camilo’s brace ensured a 3-1 win for Vancouver Whitecaps FC over the Chicago Fire on Sunday, rookie Kekuta Manneh’s contributions off the bench might have been just as important.

Coming on in the 62nd minute to replace right-sided attacker Corey Hertzog with the game scoreless, the 18-year-old Gambian added a different dimension to Vancouver’s attack.

While Hertzog is more of a traditional striker playing on the wide side of an attacking three and likes to cut into the middle, Manneh tends to hug the touchline – that gave the ‘Caps more width and stretched the Fire’s backline.

The fourth overall pick in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft showed his quality by setting up Camilo’s second before bagging his own in style.

“At that point we were playing quite well,” head coach Martin Rennie said his decision to bring on Manneh. “It gave us a little bit more width. He stayed wide a bit more naturally. The main thing is he’s got penetrating pace. He can go past people, he can run behind people, and I think at that point we were much more penetrative in the way we were playing.

“I thought the weight of his pass for Camilo’s goal was really fantastic, and then his trickery to score his [goal] was excellent. So, I just think he’s a really talented player. There’s no question about it and we just want to keep introducing him into the team little by little.”

Rennie has used Manneh sparingly after hauling him off at half-time on opening day. On that occasion, the player’s MLS debut, the attacker’s tantalizing ability was clear to see – but he looked raw and tried to do too much at times.

Since then, Rennie has yet to start Manneh – even his substitution appearances have been rare, with his last coming a month ago in the 4-3 win over the New England Revolution on June 15.

That’s made for a challenging time for the player, who like many elite young talents, isn’t used to watching from the sidelines.

“It’s been difficult,” Manneh said of playing a largely peripheral role in his rookie season. “We have a great team, we have depth on this team. Everyone on our team is a great player so it’s really hard to get in the team – it’s been difficult.”

But given the match was scoreless on Sunday, Manneh is taking confidence from his coach bringing him on at such a vital time with a difference-maker needed.

“It’s huge for a young player like me,” Manneh said of coming on at that stage of the game. “It boosts my morale too, gives me confidence – next game I’ll try to do the same thing.”

Martin MacMahon covers Vancouver Whitecaps FC for