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Kekuta Manneh faces a big offseason decision to re-sign with Columbus Crew SC or not

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The 22-year-old winger discusses his current thoughts on his future with the club.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at San Jose Earthquakes Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

It was a bit of a welcomed surprise for many Columbus Crew SC fans when the team announced the trade of Tony Tchani plus allocation money to the Vancouver Whitecaps for Kekuta Manneh.

The 22-year-old winger had already managed 22 goals over his first four season in Major League Soccer and gave the Black & Gold another explosive weapon on the wing.

But there was also a reason the Whitecaps were willing to part with such a promising, young player, and it didn’t have all to do with what the club received in return.

Manneh is in the final year of his contract and was unable to come to terms on a new deal with Vancouver. The Caps did not want to see the winger walk away in the offseason and get nothing in return, so the team looked for a trade partner and Crew SC head coach and sporting director Gregg Berhalter took the risk.

Last Saturday, Manneh returned to BC Place for the first time since the trade, contributing a goal and an assist in a 2-2 draw. It was Manneh’s best game in what has been an up-and-season in Columbus and one where he received words of encouragement form Berhalter before kickoff.

“It is important coming from a frustrating few games I didn’t play. He needs everybody on board so he has to do whatever he needs to do to make sure everybody follows,” Manneh said of hearing that from his coach.

“I guess trying to make everybody feel like we’re a part of the team. It is frustrating, difficult and confusing to think that you’re a part of the team when you’re not getting involved. But we talked about it and, it doesn’t matter what it is. I’m here to play football.”

Since the May 30 trade, Manneh has played in 15 of the team’s 26 games, starting just nine. The winger has dealt with the depth at his midfield position that features Justin Meram on one side and a mix of Ethan Finlay — now with Minnesota United — and new Designated Player signing Pedro Santos on the other.

“There’s some really, really good players here,” Manneh said of Columbus. “Competition for places is tough. It’s good football for development, but I don’t want to put myself in that situation. I’m 22 years old. I need to play week in, week out.”

The winger has four goals and three assists in some quality minutes, but it has been a bit of a roller coaster ride since the trade.

Because of his inconsistent playing time, the chance of Manneh becoming a five-month loan for Crew SC instead of agreeing to a new contract has increased.

“I can’t be in an environment where I’m left frustrated,” he continued. “I love this game way too much. Even if I have to go a step down to be able to get regular minutes, be happy week in, week out, this game makes me happy. It’s definitely something I will consider making my decision. I need to be in an environment where I need to play week in, week out like Vancouver.

“I want to be playing. I don’t know. It’s tough. Having Justin having a great year, a really good player as well. Pedro being a DP, a really good player as well. It is tough, but you always want to keep all your options open.”

Come the offseason, Manneh has a difficult decision to make whether to re-sign with Crew SC and MLS, which means Columbus would send its first-round MLS SuperDraft pick to Vancouver as part of the trade, or look to move on to another league, potentially in Europe.

Before he makes any decisions though, there remains four more regular season games with the Black & Gold and likely at least one postseason contest.

That is Manneh’s focus.

“I just want to finish this season right now, help the team achieve its goal and make the playoffs,” he said. “I know if we make the playoffs we’ll have a good chance of making the MLS Cup Final just because of the talent and that competition we have. We’re pushing each other. I’m really excited. I just want to finish the season and then think about that.”