It took him a while, but suffice it to say Kekuta Manneh showcased his true potential on Saturday.
The 22-year-old winger came on as a second half substitute and promptly registered a goal and an assist in Columbus Crew SC’s 4-1 demolition of the Montreal Impact at MAPFRE Stadium. The win completes a season sweep for the Black and Gold over the side from Quebec.
Kekuta Manneh Comes Alive in Columbus Crew SC Rout of Montreal
Manager Gregg Berhalter used the same starting XI from last week’s 3-1 loss on the road to Atlanta United FC. As he’s done in every MLS game this year, Zack Steffen started in goal. From left to right, Jukka Raitala, Jonathan Mensah, Josh Williams and Harrison Afful comprised the back four. Wil Trapp and Artur sat in front of the defensive line, with Justin Meram, Federico Higuain and Ethan Finlay the attacking midfield trio underneath Ola Kamara.
Early on, Finlay’s pace seemed to give Kyle Fisher problems. The Impact defender took down the Crew SC right winger in the box which would have resulted in a penalty had Finlay not been offside on his initial run. A few minutes later, he did so again. This time, the foul occurred outside the box but it did result in a yellow for Fisher.
That’s when Higuain took over. The Argentinian playmaker stood over the ball, ran towards it, then flighted it perfectly over the wall into the net. His 17th minute set piece magic put Crew SC up 1-0.
With the tally, Higuain became the first Crew SC player since Finlay in 2014 to register a goal in four straight games.
The lead didn’t last long, though. No more than 120 seconds later, the Black and Gold’s defensive issues reared their ugly head once more.
An errant pass from Higuain led to a quick Montreal counter in Crew SC’s half. Hernan Bernardello collected the ball and found Blerim Dzemaili who laid it off to Anthony Jackson-Hamel. The Impact Homegrown, making his third start of 2017, then took advantage of a Mensah mishap and ripped it past Steffen for the equalizer.
Another error from Mensah nearly gifted Montreal the lead. The designated player center back shanked a clearance in the 33rd minute which spilled into the box right at Dzemaili. But Steffen made a huge heads up play coming off his line and sacrificing his body to collect the ball and avoid disaster.
The two sides went into the locker room for halftime having both put a single shot on target that resulted in a score.
At the start of the second half, one of the bigger questions in fans heads surrounded whether or not Kekuta Manneh would come off the bench. The 22-year-old winger has seen scant playing time since the trade that saw Crew SC trade away Tony Tchani and shell out $300,000 in allocation money for his services.
That question received an answer when Manneh replaced Meram in the 69th minute. And to say he made a immediate impact would be a gross understatement. One minute after coming on, he ran into the box and came onto a ball Kamara laid off for him. His near post shot beat Evan Bush to his left and gave the home side a 2-1 lead.
Opening his Crew SC account was a huge weight off his shoulders. The celebration between him and his teammates after the goal indicated the magnanimity of the situation.
“They were happy (for me),” Manneh told Steve Sirk. “I’ve gone through a lot since I’ve been here (with) injuries and struggling a little bit. But you can see that everybody’s happy and they’ve got my back when I score a goal.”
Manneh wasn’t done. Two minutes later, he dribbled towards the left corner, drawing defender Wandrile Lefevre out towards him. He then pinged a pinpoint cross towards Kamara who hit it past Bush on the full volley to double the Columbus advantage.
His helper illustrated another element of his game as a versatile provider from wide areas.
“(One of) my strengths is that I can play with both feet, left and right, and that’s what I try to do” Manneh emphasized. “Ever since I was young, my coaches kept telling me ‘you can’t be one-footed, you have to balance the game out.'”
“The team I came from, Vancouver, that’s how they play: isolate the wingers one-v-one and put the crosses in the box.”
On a night where everything seemed to go Crew SC’s way in the second 45, Manneh wasn’t about to be the only player to come on as a sub and immediately contribute. A minute after Adam Jahn replaced Kamara, he headed down a Steffen long ball towards Higuain with his first touch of the game. Higuain then deftly slotted it into the net for Crew SC’s fourth.
Manneh and Jahn Come Through Off the Bench; Higuain’s Awareness
Berhalter praised his two second half talismans post-game.
“All of the credit has to go to those two guys for executing,” he noted. “Kekuta’s a guy who’s been waiting to make an impact like he did today. And Adam, he’s been fighting the whole year to have an impact like he did tonight. So I’m proud of both of those guys.”
For Higuain, he registered his eighth multi-goal game for Crew SC. But his ability to contribute on the pitch goes much more than just goals. And it showed on Manneh’s breakthrough.
“When you see the awareness he had on Kekuta’s goal, to play it over the top right away, he knew exactly what was happening on that play,” Berhalter told Massive Report. “He knew Kekuta could get isolated and it was a really heads up play. You don’t see too many guys in the league that can make a play like that.”
The Black and Gold return to action next Saturday when they welcome Atlanta United FC to MAPFRE Stadium. It’s the last of two games between the two clubs after their first-ever meeting on June 17th. Kickoff is set for 7:30 PM ET.