Martin MacMahon: Manneh magic better than fiction

The 18-year-old Gambian rookie wowed Major League Soccer on Wednesday with a well-taken hat trick that keeps his Vancouver Whitecaps in the playoff hunt.
Oftentimes in soccer, the reality is better than anything we could write up.

Wednesday was one such night, as 18-year-old Kekuta Manneh put in one of the best individual performances by a Vancouver Whitecaps player in the Major League Soccer era, becoming the first 'Cap to score a hat trick for the side since the move to MLS in Vancouver's 4-1 win over the Seattle Sounders at CenturyLink Field.

In doing so, Manneh also becomes the youngest player in league history to notch three goals in a single match.

“The thing is, I'm more nervous in this interview than the game,” Manneh told reporters after the match of his cool finishing. “This is the type of games every player wants to play in. These are the games we dream to play, in front of this crowd.

“All you can do is get excited and play the game.”

Had he worked that magic in a midseason game, it would have been brilliant in and of itself, but given the circumstances, it has to be seen as that bit better.

His goals, wonderfully set up by teammates though they were, have kept Vancouver's slim playoff hopes alive.

The 'Caps still have to win both their games and rely on a slip up from someone else to make it into the postseason, but at least the side is still in with a shout to sneak in.

Manneh took his goals in a way that made them look almost natural. On each occasion he found himself through alone on poor Michael Gspurning.

First, Daigo Kobayashi sent a powerful headed through ball to spring the Gambian, and while Gspurning was able to get a touch on the ball, it wasn't enough as it trickled through and into the goal for the opener just 12 minutes in.

Then it was a great team goal to double Vancouver's lead, as Camilo expertly sent Manneh through on a breakaway again after tipping a nicely weighted pass from Lee Young-Pyo into the youngster's path.

Manneh put the cherry on top for his hat trick by finishing coolly through the legs of Gspurning from close range.

The whole thing was quite frankly absurd, and so fantastic to watch.

“We kind of joked before it, you're never exactly sure what you're going to get with an 18-year-old,” head coach Martin Rennie said. “But he's unbelievably talented and he's someone we're really proud of and really glad to have him in our team.

“He's shown what he can do tonight. Obviously with young players you're not always going to get that consistent level of performance, but we did actually talk about it before – if he showed up, then he could have a huge impact on the game, and he did.”

For a Whitecaps side that entered the match with just two wins in its last dozen outings, this wasn't what the script looked like.

Given the Sounders were coming off a 5-1 drubbing at the hands of the Colorado Rapids, it was expected the star-studded side would put in a strong reaction in front of a home crowd of over 38,000. Instead, the playoff-bound side buckled mightily against a fluid and dynamic Whitecaps attack.

The whole thing sets up two do-or-die matchups with the Colorado Rapids, first on Oct. 19 in Denver, before the Whitecaps host Colorado in their season finale at BC Place on the following weekend.

“I think we proved today that we can both give a good fight but also there’s some ability in the team to keep it rolling and score some good goals,” captain Jay DeMerit said. “It’s really important now to not rest too much on this and we need to go on to Colorado and prove to ourselves and everybody that we can go there and win. It would mean a lot for the club.”