Man­neh back in town to face old club

Crew for­ward re­turns to Van­cou­ver af­ter in-sea­son trade that net­ted Caps mid­field help

Vancouver Sun - - FRONT PAGE - PA­TRICK JOHNSTON pjohn­ston@post­media.com twit­ter.com/risin­gac­tion

The talk was al­ways about when he was go­ing to be the great big star.

In­stead, he be­came a key face in a no­table trade, one that re-shaped the look of the White­caps for 2017 and per­haps beyond.

Drafted in 2013, Kekuta Man­neh was long an in­trigu­ing tal­ent for the White­caps.

He scored 22 times in 103 reg­u­lar-sea­son and play­off games, many of the spec­tac­u­lar va­ri­ety.

Be­fore the cur­rent MLS sea­son, he told Marc We­ber he’d been watch­ing Chelsea’s Eden Haz­ard, Manch­ester City’s Ra­heem Ster­ling and Tot­ten­ham’s Dele Alli as play­ers with styles to mimic.

But he be­came part of a num­bers crunch in Van­cou­ver and af­ter play­ing three times in the open­ing weeks of the sea­son, in­clud­ing a pair of starts, he was shipped to Colum­bus in ex­change for Tony Tchani.

Might he find a sto­ry­book re­turn tonight?

The trade was called win-win for every­one.

The White­caps al­ready had four other wingers, the Crew not enough. The Caps were des­per­ate for ro­bust help in the mid­field and Tchani wasn’t go­ing to play much for the Crew.

“He needed a change. We needed a change, be­cause we had Alphonso Davies who was ready to play more min­utes, we had the Bug (Cris­tian Techera) who was fly­ing at the time as well and we needed a cen­tral mid­field player,” Carl Robin­son told re­porters this week.

For the Caps, it’s played out in spades. The wingers have per­formed well. And Tchani has be­come the first-choice man in the mid­dle.

For Man­neh, it’s been a dif­fer­ent story. It took more than a month for him to make his first ap­pear­ance for Colum­bus, a late-game nine-minute cameo. He didn’t start a game un­til the mid­dle of May. He didn’t score his first goal un­til the end of June. He’s scored twice since then and has now played 14 games for the men in black and yel­low.

But he’s also ap­peared just twice — with only one start, which in­cluded a goal — dur­ing the Crew’s re­cent five-game run of good form.

On Wed­nes­day, he took in the White­caps’ dom­i­nant 3-0 win over Min­nesota United.

He posted a photo on Instagram, cap­tioned “from the hum­ble be­gin­nings.”

He’s told re­porters he has no hard feel­ings on the trade.

“It’s a busi­ness,” he’s said. He’s also sug­gested, to no sur­prise re­ally, he’s ex­cited to ex­pe­ri­ence the B.C. Place at­mos­phere again.

The other fac­tor was Man­neh’s ex­pir­ing con­tract. The winger and the White­caps looked un­likely to reach an agree­ment and when Van­cou­ver found Colum­bus was will­ing to take a bet on Man­neh, the switch was too good to pass up.

One of the con­di­tions of the deal says that if Man­neh re-signs with Colum­bus, the White­caps will get the Crew’s first-round draft pick next year. There are also sell-on clauses should Man­neh be moved else­where.

Af­ter los­ing in the MLS Cup fi­nal to Port­land in 2015, the Crew limped through 2016, fin­ish­ing ninth in the East­ern Con­fer­ence.

Colum­bus hasn’t won in Van­cou­ver since the White­caps’ 2011 ex­pan­sion sea­son. Tonight’s game is their fifth last on the year and ev­ery ri­val be­neath them in the stand­ings — the Crew sits fourth in the east — has games in hand.

Mon­treal, which is hold­ing down the sev­enth spot in the east and is a spot out of the play­offs, sits seven points adrift of the Crew, though they have two games in hand.

Need­less to say, the Crew needs re­sults.

But it’s not clear whether Man­neh will get to strut his stuff in tonight’s cru­cial en­counter as he’s be­come third choice on the wing be­hind Pe­dro San­tos and Justin Meram.

And Tchani may not face his old mates ei­ther. He played the full 90 min­utes both last Satur­day and on Wed­nes­day.

“I grew up in Colum­bus, but some­times you need a new chal­lenge,” Tchani told the White­caps’ of­fi­cial site this week.

For the White­caps, this is a big chance to so­lid­ify their spot at the top of the West­ern Con­fer­ence stand­ings. They’ve won three in a row for the first time this sea­son.

Score­board watch­ing will also be in­trigu­ing as top-of-the-ta­ble ri­val Seat­tle is in Dal­las, while Port­land is in Salt Lake.

Add it all up and to­day could fea­ture sto­ry­lines ga­lore.

DAR­RYL DYCK/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS/FILES

Kekuta Man­neh re­turns to Van­cou­ver with no hard feel­ings af­ter be­ing traded ear­lier this sea­son to Colum­bus for Tony Tchani.

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