Kekuta Manneh had one concern when he learned he was headed to Columbus Crew SC.
It didn’t take Manneh long to find out. After just a few days in his new city, the midfielder learned that there are plenty of good food options, Mexican grill or otherwise.
“I was like, ‘Woah!’ There are a lot of them,” Manneh said of Chipotle. “I didn’t know you had Chick-fil-A too. I was at the mall and I saw it. I was like, ‘What?’ It’s nice.”
Manneh found some good spots to eat, but he’s still waiting to take a bite out of Crew SC when it comes to playing. The attacker arrived on Friday night and took in Saturday’s 2-0 win over Orlando City, watching his new team in person for the first time from a suite in MAPFRE Stadium.
“It’s different watching the game from upstairs. It was a bit cold, but it was fun,” he said. “I enjoyed watching the guys play. They moved the ball well, winning 2-0 at home and get the crowd on their feet. It’s exciting right now and we want to keep it that way and I can’t wait to be a part of that, to be out there on a Saturday playing on a regular basis.”
Manneh got his first taste of Black & Gold action on Sunday as he started and played 45 minutes in Columbus’ scrimmage with Michigan State. In the exhibition game, the winger performed well, scoring a first half goal.
Monday was his first chance to train with his teammates and so far everything is living up to his expectations.
“It’s been tiring, but fun,” he said following his first session. “I enjoyed it. The guys are really great. I love the way they welcomed me. It was nice and very welcoming and accommodating and I like that. So it’s been good. Training today was good and the game on Sunday, I really enjoyed it. I like the way those guys play and everybody touches the ball and that’s what I’m all about. I want the ball at my feet and I’m getting the ball a little more and trying to enjoy, get a feel of it, get used to the guys. But it’s been fun.”
While he’s enjoying getting to know his teammates, they also like having a new face in town.
It’s only been a couple of days, but Wil Trapp is already seeing a player who can make a difference for Crew SC.
“I think he’s going to be fantastic for us,” the midfield captain said of Manneh on Tuesday. “Pace, soccer IQ is high. He wants to combine, wants to create connections with teammates and that’s what our style of soccer is all about. So I think he’ll fit in really well.”
As for what he expects to bring to his new club, the answer is simple. He wants to be a part of goals.
“I like to score goals; I like to provide,” Manneh said. “I think they already have that. It’s just add a little more to what they have and a little different to what they have. I can run in behind, take on players and I can finish as well. They have all those qualities, but if I can add a little more that I have and then it will help the team be a little bit than they actually are right now.”
Manneh’s addition is certainly a welcomed one, but it’s not as if the Black & Gold need offensive help. Columbus has scored nine goals through five matches and each member of the attacking front has found the back of the net.
With Ola Kamara, Federico Higuain, Justin Meram and Ethan Finlay playing well, Trapp believes Manneh makes the Crew SC attack that much more difficult for opponents to prepare for.
“You look at every single guy in our attack has created chances and scored chances and that’s a very important thing for us and exciting thing for us,” he said. “And you’re adding another guy into that fold who has proven he can do this in this league. Teams need to accommodate for us as much as we are focusing on preparing for them.”
Although Manneh’s play over the first few days has been good, head coach Gregg Berhalter said his fitness is not where it needs to be right now.
“It’s hard for me to exactly put my finger on (why),” he said. “I know he was injured, so that could be something to do with it in that you lose some of the base and then trying to regain. I think the good thing about Kekuta is he realized there’s work to be done and he’s willing to do the work. I think that’s the important thing.”
Under Berhalter, the Crew SC players are asked to move a lot during games which requires a high level of fitness. While the coach wouldn’t say it’s higher than other teams in the league, he did say Manneh needs to increase his conditioning in order to get on par with his new teammates.
With that said, Berhalter is excited about Manneh’s addition and what he brings to the club. As for when he might see the field in some capacity, Berhalter would not rule out this weekend’s matchup with the Chicago Fire.
“We’ll see. We’re taking it day by day with Kektua,” he said. “We want to make sure he’s right and prepared.
“He will be available (for selection Saturday). Beyond that, we’re going to see what the week brings.”
Kektua’s got to eat, right?