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  • Whitecaps needing to get their Manneh’s worth

    Michael Mccoll

    Manneh has struggled this year, making little impact when a starter and not terrifying defences as often as we would like when brought on as a late sub. He has bagged three goals, but they all came in the Whitecaps’ first nine games of the season and he hasn’t found the back of the net since the May 3rd game against San Jose.

    In fact, Manneh hasn’t looked confident at all in recent matches and I’d go as far as to say that he hasn’t looked the same since he missed the crucial penalty against Toronto in the Canadian Championship semi-final shootout. A coincidence maybe, but true all the same.

    When you speak with Manneh though, he’s quick to point out that his recent dip in performances isn’t down to confidence as far as he’s concerned.

    "I wouldn't say I've lost confidence, just restricted by the playing time a little bit," Manneh told reporters at training on Thursday. "That makes me a little bit frustrated but I think when I get a chance you'll see the confidence is back up there. It's just the past four games I really didn't play that much but hopefully I'll get a chance to play this weekend so that my confidence is still back up, but I don't feel that way."

    Now it would be easy to dismiss Manneh’s form as being that clichéd sophomore slump, but the 19 year old has featured at some point in 19 of the Whitecaps’ 23 MLS matches to date. He’s already played more minutes than he did last season and made three more starts (9 of them to 6 in 2013) but he has less goals (3 compared to 6) and assists (1 compared to last year’s 2) than he did in his rookie season.

    It’s just that he isn’t firing on all the cylinders that we know he’s capable of. Mind you, the same can be said of all of his young striking partners at various points of this year.

    "I just think we need to go back to what we've been doing since the beginning of the season," was Manneh’s thoughts when asked how both him and the team can get their offensive mojo back. "I think we've stayed away from the things that we've been successful at and just go back to the drawing board and stick with that. We've been working on it for the past weeks and right now we just need a little bit of luck on our side but we've been doing everything right and maybe a little bit of luck would have helped and hopefully we can get that this weekend."

    It’s had some screaming for the Whitecaps to bring in an experienced striker before the MLS roster freeze on September 15th. The young attackers haven’t had a real mentor since Kenny Miller left, although Andy O’Brien has spent a lot of extra training time with all of them to impart knowledge of how defenders will play against them.

    There is no doubt that an experienced figure with a consistent goalscoring record would do wonders for Manneh, Erik Hurtado, Darren Mattocks and Omar Salgado, and the addition of a locker room leader like Mauro Rosales will certainly help with that to some extent.

    For Manneh though, he feels that Carl Robinson and the club are right to put their focus on letting this young group develop.

    "People are always going to say what they want to say and you can't really stop them, but I think it's been great for the club," Manneh said. "They have the academy system and they're bringing up young kids from the academy. It's helping the team and we've been playing well with the young players. I don't really see anything wrong with that.

    "The performance has been great. Sometimes we've just been unlucky and some of the games that's we've tied we could have won. I don't think experience was really the case. It's enjoyable watching us play. Exciting. It's definitely just a matter of time for all the pieces to come together."

    There have been some factors behind the issues that Manneh’s faced this year. He started the preseason with a niggling back injury that took longer to heal than expected and he lost some valuable fitness time. It’s haunted him all year and far too often he looks gassed by around the hour mark when he’s been on as a starter.

    "It was early on in the season, but I've done fitness for the past four weeks," Manneh told us. "I feel that my fitness is back to where I want to be and physically I feel great so I think I'm ready for 90 minutes."

    That’s not quite the same view that’s shared by his coach.

    "I sometimes think that they have inconsistent performances," Robinson said of his young strikeforce. "I've pulled Kekuta out of the last couple of games because his fitness levels needed to increase, and I think you see the freshness he's got in training this week and he's great and he's raring to go if he gets that opportunity."

    And that’s what everyone of a Whitecaps persuasion wants to see just now – the team hitting the stride and their best form when it really matters at the end of the season.

    Manneh hasn’t started a game for the Caps since the 3-1 home loss to Chivas on July 12th. That was his third start in four games since Vancouver returned to action after the World Cup break. He’s played just 72 combined minutes in the six games since then, with no goals, no assists and just four shots to his name.

    But he’s looked back to his old self, keen and hungry during training this week and is pushing for a start against LA on Saturday night. The addition of Morales may have scuppered that depending on how Robinson wants to proceed, but Manneh will almost certainly feature at some point.

    To me, Manneh has been at his best these past two seasons when he comes on as an impact sub, running at tired defenders at the end of the game. His speed and inexperience often see him trying to do too much. Go past that one defender too many. Run out of space and ideas. Early in the game, that is a problem, Later on, he gets more leeway and the chance for all that to maybe not be punished so much.

    But if Manneh was given the choice of playing from the start or coming on late, there’s always only one option he wants.

    "Definitely start the game," Manneh told us. "I would love to play every single minute of every game. I know that can't happen because we have a lot of talented young players, attacking players, in our team so it will be difficult. I'm trying to make the most of my opportunities."

    With a limited strikeforce and no new addition seemingly on the horizon for this year, Manneh will undoubtedly get his chances and it’s important that he does make the most of them for both the team and the player himself.

    He certainly made the most of it last year as the season wound down, starting the final three games of the year and grabbing four goals, including that wondrous hat-trick in Seattle that will long live in every Whitecaps fan’s memory.

    Can we get the same explosive end to the season from the exciting young player this time around?

    "I hope so," Manneh said with a smile. "It's a thing I've been thinking of a lot. Hopefully I can get the spark and towards the end of the season the team will definitely need that. We really want to make the playoffs this year and things are looking good."

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