VANCOUVER, BC - The storylines surrounding Friday night's Cascadia derby between Seattle Sounders FC and Vancouver Whitecaps FC (7 p.m. PT, TSN1) are numerous and it must feel a little like déjà-vu for the Canadian club.
With three games remaining in the regular season, the 'Caps are in need of a win to bolster their postseason hopes, the Sounders are looking to move one step closer to landing the Supporters' Shield, and the final destination of this year's Cascadia Cup is also on the line.
Hear what the 'Caps have to say about Friday's Cascadia clash
The similarities to last season are striking for Vancouver. It will almost be a year to the day since a then 18-year-old Kekuta Manneh made headlines around MLS when he headed into CenturyLink Field and destroyed Seattle with his pace and a blistering hat-trick in a 4-1 victory. Can lightning strike twice?
"I hope so," Manneh told reporters with a smile, before playing down his own performance in last year's big win. "It’s going to be a good game, so we’ll see what happens. It was a great feeling coming out of there, having the three points and being able to score three goals was fantastic."
"Hopefully we can do the same thing and the team can get the three points," he added, "That’s what we need."
The second-year winger/striker has been mainly used off the bench, as a preseason back injury saw him fall behind his teammates in terms of stamina. But after a lot of hard fitness work and a couple of exciting substitute performances of late, Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson is hoping that Vancouver now have a more well-rounded Manneh on their hands.
"[It was] two different substitute appearances," Robinson said of Manneh's performances in their two recent home wins. "The first one against Salt Lake, he was exciting 20-odd thousand by almost beating three men and scoring the goal of the season."
"Last week he came on and showed his understanding of the defensive side of the game. He was winning headers in our box and his work rate was something that people probably don’t expect. We expect it if we’re going to be successful as a team and we’ve been preaching that to him and he showed that he’s been taking the information on board. So two very different performances, but both equally vital."
So can the young Gambian become Vancouver's Mr. October once again? Robinson wasn't putting any money on another hat-trick performance from his young star but he's confident he will make another impact if he gets the start with Sebastian Fernandez suspended.
"All signs show me that he’s ready," Robinson said. "If he gets the opportunity to go in on Friday then hopefully he might be exactly the same. He’s shown a lot of confidence in training this week."
"He’s told me he’s got 90 [minutes in him]. We’ll wait and see on Friday. Obviously the adrenaline as well, playing in front of 60-odd thousand, this occasion is what everyone wants to do."
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