24 under 24 - Manneh, Laba, Rivero

24 under 24: Three Whitecaps FC players make final list

VANCOUVER, BC – The kids can play.

MLSsoccer.com unveiled its annual 24 under 24 list today, which as its name suggests ranks the league’s best players under the age of 24. And three Vancouver Whitecaps FC players made the cut: Kekuta Manneh at second overall, Matias Laba at 12th and Octavio Rivero at 18th.

Only New England Revolution had more players on the final list (4).

This came as no surprise to Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson, who has spoken at length about his belief in the club’s young talent – not only on the first team but all the way down to the Residency program. 

"Everyone has their own philosophies and ours is to develop young players," said Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson. "The proof is in the pudding ... we sign them, we coach them, we develop them, and we play them."

It appears to be working, too. 

The ‘Caps are currently tied for the top spot in MLS and it has a lot to do with the contributions they’ve received from players like Manneh, Laba, and Rivero. And they aren’t the only ones.

A league-leading nine ‘Caps actually made the preliminary 75-player list, which was then narrowed down to 24 by a panel of North American MLS media and MLSsoccer.com editors using the following criteria:

  • Technical (first touch, dribbling, shooting, heading, etc.)
  • Soccer IQ (positioning, reading game, situational understanding, tactical awareness, etc.)
  • Physical Attributes (balance, agility, speed, endurance, strength, vertical leap, etc.)
  • Personality (attitude, marketability, media savviness, charisma, intangibles, etc.)
  • Potential (improvability, ceiling, national team potential, potential future transfer value, etc.)

This is the third straight year Whitecaps FC have had at least three players on the list.

Interestingly, Whitecaps FC acquired each player through a different mechanism. They drafted Manneh, traded for Laba, and signed Rivero via transfer.

Learn more about each of them below.

His story: Manneh, 20, was Vancouver’s first pick in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft (fourth overall). A native of Bakau, The Gambia, Manneh came over to the United States in 2010 and was eventually adopted by a Texas family (his birth mother passed away when he was 10 years old). Manneh jumps 10 spaces from last year’s 24 under 24 list, where he came in at 12th.

Coach's comment: "On his day, he can beat anyone. Our job as coaches is to try to make him more consistent on a regular basis, but he's a natural talent." - Carl Robinson

By the numbers: Currently, Manneh has a team-high six assists and is tied for second on the team with six goals so far this season. He’s also third in MLS with 58 completed dribbles this season (which is defined as a successful attempt to beat an opposing player in a one-v-one situation).

Did you know? Manneh remains the youngest player in MLS history to score a hat-trick. He did so at the age of 18 on the road against Seattle Sounders FC.

Watch: Kekuta Manneh, mic'd up 

His story: A native of Villa Raffo, Argentina, Laba made the move to North America in 2013 to join Toronto FC. The defensive midfielder spent one season in Ontario, before Whitecaps FC acquired him in exchange for future considerations. Laba jumps three spaces from 2014, when he was deemed the 15th best player under the age of 2014.

Coach's comment: "He's arguably the best central defensive midfielder in the league. His age makes him more attractive, but what he does ... he does it brilliantly." - Carl Robinson

By the numbers: Laba leads MLS with 129 tackles so far this season. Remarkably, the ‘Caps have regained possession as a result of 113 of those tackles – an 87.6 per cent success rate.

Did you know? Laba represented Argentina at the 2011 FIFA U-20 World Cup.

Watch: Laba vs. Mezquida FIFA 15 battle

His story: A native of Treinta y Tres, Uruguay, Rivero starred in his native Uruguay and Chile before joining Whitecaps FC at the start of the 2015 season. The 23-year-old got off to a dream start to his MLS career, scoring five goals in his first six matches.

Coach's comment: "He started off all guns blazing and found his groove pretty quickly. Even though he then went through a period of not scoring many goals, the way he played for the team was fantastic. He's obviously finding his feet in his first season in MLS. A fantastic young talent we've got on our hands." - Carl Robinson

By the numbers: Rivero leads Whitecaps FC with 10 goals so far this season – five of which have been game-winners. He is the fourth Whitecaps FC player to reach the 10-goal mark in MLS.  

Did you know? Rivero is one of four Uruguayans on Whitecaps FC’s current MLS roster.   

Watch: Rivero presented match ball for first MLS goal

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