Major League Soccer is known for having blazing fast players all over the field but the fastest just might be a 20-year-old from The Gambia. Kekuta Manneh was the No. 4 overall selection in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft, and it took him a few years to adjust to the professional game.
But Manneh scored seven goals and assisted on six others for Vancouver Whitecaps FC in 2015, and with Leg 2 of their 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs Western Conference Semifinal against Portland Timbers quickly approaching, MLSsoccer.com brings you an inside look at Vancouver’s burgeoning star with 10 things you might not have known:
1. Scooter: Nicknames in soccer usually fall into two categories. They're either boringly unoriginal or bizarrely inventive. Manneh's falls into the latter category. He's known as "Scooter" – a nickname first coined by teammate Darren Mattocks – because he's always "buzzing around" the pitch. Manneh wasn't a fan of the nickname at first, but now loves it and is constantly referred to by that name by other players in interviews.
2. Giant Killer: Manneh was born in the Gambian coastal city of Bakau and signed his first professional contract in 2009 with local First Division club Steve Biko FC, named after the murdered South African anti-apartheid activist and nicknamed the Bakau Giant Killers. Manneh spent a season with the team, guiding them to second in the league and scoring 17 goals in 12 matches, before heading over to the U.S. for a new life.
3. Lucky Boots: When Manneh was a kid growing up in Gambia he used to play the game barefooted "because my dad couldn't afford to buy me cleats, because he's got to work to feed the family." As Manneh aged, his mother got him elastic shoes, which he played in during his youth career.
Manneh's hometown is a tourist town and one day an English tourist came to the city, saw Manneh and other kids playing in the street and decided to sponsor them. He came back with jerseys and some cleats and had a competition for the local youth where five of them would be given the football boots he brought over. Manneh was one of the standout players and earned a pair of boots. "That was my first cleat and I've had it for a long time."
4. USMNT Future?: Manneh moved to the U.S. in 2010 and was eventually adopted by a Texas family. He currently holds a Green Card and counts as a domestic player for Vancouver, but he has applied for American citizenship. That should be finalized next September, making him eligible to play for the U.S. national team.
5. Scholes Love: Manneh's footballing hero is former Manchester United midfielder Paul Scholes. "I love the way he plays," Manneh said. "I love the way he spreads balls. I wish I'd played with him and could have him supply me with those balls."
6. The Atomic Ant: He might play for Vancouver's bitter Canadian rivals, but Manneh is a huge admirer of Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco. "He very inspiring," Manneh said. "His technical abilities, the way he plays, the way he reads the game – it's just unbelievable. He's a different level."
7. Sounders nemesis: Manneh's skill was already exciting many, but he really burst into people's consciousness with his October 2013 hat-trick for Vancouver in Seattle. That marked his first MLS hat-trick but not the most goals he's scored in a game, having previously scored four goals in matches for USSDA side Lonestar SC and then for Austin Aztex in the PDL.
8. Just a Country Boy: It would appear that Manneh's time in Texas has had a lasting effect. He loves all kind of music, and listens to reggae mainly, but he also loves country music. Blake Shelton is his favourite country singer, but "Taylor Swift is up there."
9. A Red Devil: Manneh is an avid Manchester United fan, and his support grew from unusual roots. "The town I lived in, eight out of 10 people support Man United. I think it's the first soccer game I ever watched on television. They won that game, so from that moment I said 'I like this team' and my favourite color is red."
10. Gullible Kid: There's a lot of laughter and jokes played on each other in the ‘Caps locker room. Manneh still cringes at what he says is the most embarrassing prank he's had played on him during his time in Vancouver so far:
It was April Fools' Day 2013. Manneh and Erik Hurtado were told they had to take part in a "Rookie Photo Shoot" session, posing in numerous positions and in a Jacuzzi in nothing more than cowboy hats and their underwear!
"I still can't ever watch that video," Manneh said. "I went back home last year and we were watching funny videos and my family were like 'Oh, there's a video of you and Erik, let's watch it!"
Manneh and the 'Caps return to BC Place on Sunday to host Portland Timbers in the second leg of the Western Conference Semifinal (7 p.m. PT on TSN1).
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