SEATTLE, WA – Rookie Kekuta Manneh scored Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s (12W-11L-9D) first-ever hat-trick in Major League Soccer en route to a historic 4-1 victory over Seattle Sounders FC (15W-10L-6D) Wednesday evening at CenturyLink Field.
Making just his fourth start this season, the 18-year-old Gambian scored twice in the first half and added an insurance marker in the 59th minute, becoming the youngest player in MLS history to score three goals in one match.
Manneh's brilliance helped Whitecaps FC set a new MLS club record with their 12th win of the season.
Midfielder Daigo Kobayashi, who set up two of Manneh’s three goals, also turned in one of his best performances of the season and Nigel Reo-Coker scored his first MLS goal late to secure the important three points.
It was Vancouver’s first-ever MLS road victory over a Cascadia rival, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
With two matches remaining in the regular season, Whitecaps FC are now just three points out of the fifth and final playoff position – currently held by Colorado Rapids. In order to qualify for the post-season, they will also need to overtake sixth-place San Jose Earthquakes, who they trail by two points. The ‘Caps meet Colorado in a home and home series to end the season.
The win also puts Vancouver atop the Cascadia Cup standings, though the Sounders have a final Cascadia fixture to play this weekend against Portland Timbers. The ‘Caps would be crowned champions with a Timbers win or draw.
Whitecaps FC head coach Martin Rennie made just a single change to his starting lineup after a thrilling 2-2 draw with Portland just 72 hours ago. With striker Darren Mattocks away on international duty and Kenny Miller (right adductor tightness) still unavailable, Manneh slotted in alongside Camilo to form Vancouver’s striker partnership.
After an early-game feeling out period, the action picked up around the 10-minute mark.
The home team had the first real chance of the match when David Estrada released striker Lamar Neagle into the ‘Caps box with a dangerous throw-in. But Whitecaps FC goalkeeper David Ousted alertly came off his line and stymied the opportunity with a confident chest save.
It was the first of Ousted’s two saves in the first half. His other was also on Neagle, as the Danish shot-stopper tipped away the American striker’s powerful left-footed strike from distance in the 29th minute.
Ousted’s timely goalkeeping may have sparked the visiting ‘Caps, who opened the scoring just a minute after Neagle’s first opportunity.
After a poor clearance attempt by defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Kobayashi sent Manneh in all alone with a first-time header and the Gambian striker made no mistake. With Sounders goalkeeper Michael Gspurning approaching, Manneh took a touch and slotted the ball in with a cool left-footed finish to put the ‘Caps ahead in the 12th minute.
To their credit, the Sounders started to take over the game following Manneh’s early marker. They enjoyed 53 per cent of possession in the first half and launched seven shots towards goal, but simply could not break through.
At the other end of the pitch, the visiting ‘Caps were clinical with their limited opportunities. Manneh doubled Vancouver’s lead just before halftime with another savvy finish.
In the build-up, Young-Pyo Lee played a searching ball to Camilo down the right flank. The Brazilian striker drew two Sounders towards him before executing a perfect no-look flick to Manneh, who then calmly placed the ball into the bottom right corner of the goal to give Vancouver a 2-0 advantage.
Lee, who picked up the secondary assist on the goal, now has three helpers in his last four matches and a total of six on the season.
Manneh picked up where he left off in the second half. He again found himself all alone in the Sounders box after Kobayashi flicked a through-ball into the Sounders box from midfield. This time, the rookie finished first time with a clinical toe poke through the legs of Gspurning, extending Vancouver’s lead to 3-0 in the 54th minute.
Seattle finally got on the board in the 69th minute, just moments after defender Patrick Ianni sent a header off the crossbar from a Mauro Rosales corner. After defender Carlyle Mitchell blocked an Osvaldo Alonso strike, the rebound fell to Rosales and the Sounders captain found the back of the net, spoiling Ousted’s shutout bid.
Although he wasn’t able to keep a clean sheet, Ousted was solid all night. He made six saves – none bigger than a sprawling stop on DeAndre Yedlin in the 71st minute to maintain Vancouver’s two-goal cushion.
In the end, Reo-Coker sealed the deal in the 82nd minute with a powerful 70-yard run, in which he blew by defender Marc Burch, capped off by a right-footed finish from just inside the box.
It’s one that Gspurning probably would have liked back, but it wouldn’t have made a difference either way. The outcome was not in question, as the ‘Caps cruised to a much-needed 4-1 victory in their most important match of the season.
Next up for the Blue and White is a massive Western Conference tilt with Colorado October 19 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, before hosting the Rapids the following week in their regular season finale.
Budweiser Man of the Match: Kekuta Manneh
Referee: Juan Guzman