Photo by Jane Gershovich/Soccer by Ives
By JASON MITCHELL
SEATTLE – The Vancouver Whitecaps came into Seattle on Wednesday with just one win in their last seven matches, winless all-time in the Emerald City, and clinging to the playoffs by a fast-fraying thread.
Oh, and their hosts had lost at home just once all season. Seven months ago.
Maybe Kekuta Manneh was too young to know, or care, about the odds.
The teenager shredded the Seattle Sounders defense not once, not twice, but three times with youthful insouciance, lifting the Whitecaps to a 4-1 win in front of 38,833 at CenturyLink Field.
At 18, Manneh became the youngest player in league history to record a hat trick, according to MLS.
Midfielder Daigo Kobayashi assisted on two of the three goals.
“I always have this feeling about the game,” said Manneh, “that I’m going to make an impact no matter how much time I play, if I start or I come from the bench. I’m always looking to make an impact in the game.”
The win leaves Vancouver two points behind the sixth-place San Jose Earthquakes and three points behind the Colorado Rapids for the fifth and final Western Conference playoff spot. The Whitecaps’ two remaining matches are both against the Rapids.
“Well, you know it was a phenomenal game and night for Vancouver Whitecaps fans to remember for a very long time,” said Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie. “I think we played a great game tonight.”
Vancouver (12-11-9, 45 points) opened the scoring in just the 12th minute after Kobayashi stepped into a soft clearance and headed Manneh into space along the Sounders back line. Manneh powered by Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and took just two touches to slip a left-footed shot underneath goalkeeper Michael Gspurning for his third goal of the season.
Although Seattle (15-10-6, 51 points) outplayed Vancouver over the next half hour, Camilo Sanvezzo and Manneh paired up to double the lead in the 42nd minute.
Camilo took a pass from Y. P. Lee along the right touchline and split defenders Djimi Traore and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado with a one-touch through-ball into space. With only Gspurning to beat, Manneh traced the pass into the area and toed in a right-footed shot for the 2-0 lead.
Kobayashi and Manneh paired again barely 10 minutes into the second half. A 54th-minute give-and-go ended with Kobayashi finding Manneh in a sea of space in the area. For the second time on the night, Manneh carefully timed a run onto the ball and took but a lone touch to beat Gspurning.
“We kind of joked before [the game] that you’re never exactly sure what you’re going to get with an 18-year-old,” said Rennie, “but he’s unbelievably talented and he’s someone we’re really proud of and we’re really glad to have him on our team.”
Mauro Rosales made it 3-1 in the 69th minute, volleying a deflected Osvaldo Alonso shot past goalkeeper David Ousted.
But it was far too little for the Sounders, as they missed out on a chance to regain the lead in the Supporters’ Shield race and to reclaim the Cascadia Cup—the fan-sponsored competition between the Sounders, Whitecaps, and Portland Timbers.
Worse yet, the Sounders have now given up nine goals in just two matches after falling 5-1 to the Colorado Rapids on Saturday. The Sounders are also now 0-2-2 in their last four matches after dominating MLS since May.
It wasn’t a good performance today,” said Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid. “It wasn’t a good performance at Colorado, and it’s unacceptable. We live and die together. We live and die as a team, as a staff—everybody. It’s unacceptable from us as a coaching staff, it’s unacceptable from us as a team, and it’s just unacceptable the last two performances.”
Seattle was missing Eddie Johnson and Brad Evans to national team duty, Zach Scott to suspension, and Leo Gonzalez to injury.
On the other hand, Clint Dempsey came on as an early second-half sub after missing three games with injury. And Steve Zakuani, out since April while recovering from sports hernia surgery, played the final 11 minutes.
Nigel Reo-Coker added the fourth and final goal in the 83rd minute, beating Osvaldo Alonso on a run that began near midfield and ended with a 16-yard shot that scooted under Gspurning’s hands and through the Austrian’s legs.
Looking forward, Vancouver visits the Rapids (13-9-9, 48 points) on Oct. 19, then hosts them on Oct. 27.
The Sounders have a short turnaround, traveling to Portland (12-5-14, 50 points) to face the Timbers on Sunday.
Here are the match highlights: