Wayback Wednesday: Kekuta Manneh for Tony Tchani

Welcome to Wayback Wednesday, where we take a look at past transactions made by the Whitecaps during their MLS era and look at how they have turned out today. We will be hoping to do this on a regular basis, so feel free to comment some suggestions for trades/transfers or tell us how you think some of those transactions went down in your opinion. We kick things off this week with a look at the Kekuta Manneh for Tony Tchani trade.

Editor’s note: Wayback is a reference to the famous Wayback Machine, a site that allows you to look back at old website pages (in the last 10 years) Since this series will look at transactions since 2011, the name fits.

Kekuta Manneh was not supposed to go out like this. To see him traded within the MLS, on a boring weekday in the morning, was not the way many fans expected the exciting winger to leave the club. Drafted 4th overall in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft, he had teased fans with his potential throughout the 4 or so seasons that he was here. He showed glimpses of what he could become, as his blistering pace and cut backs were pretty beautiful to watch when he was on his game. Equally as frustrating was his tendency to get snuffed out in matches, as he would often try way to do way too much and his dribbles would constantly clatter off the insides of defenders legs. Despite that, he had slowly started to round out his game, becoming more and more consistent and helping out the team defensively. His pace would be a pretty central part of the Carl Robinson system, as he would end up making teams pay if they played a high line against the deep-sitting Whitecaps. It was expected that Manneh would leave the club eventually, likely to a club in Europe for a 7 figure fee, so it was a big shock when it was announced that he was traded to Eastern Conference foes Colombus Crew for 300 000$ and MLS veteran Tony Tchani. To unpack this one, let’s take a look at what each team got.

Columbus Crew Received: Kekuta Manneh

Vancouver Whitecaps Received: 75 000$ in GAM, 225 000$ in TAM, Tony Tchani

At the time, this move got mixed reviews, as the Caps were seemingly giving up on a young winger that was supposed to get them some good cash with a move to Europe. After seeing Gershon Koffie leave in similar circumstances a year earlier and stick around in MLS (we’ll touch on that one in a future Wayback Wednesday), fans immediately seemed to think the Caps got ripped off. The money would have been disappointing on it’s own, but the big coup was Tony Tchani. While he did not have the same excitement nor potential that Manneh had and was already a known quantity at 28 years-old, those known quantities, which were his defensive abilities and decent enough attacking skills, instantly changed up the Whitecaps attack and propelled the team forward.

They would constantly play a 4-2-3-1 under Robinson, with Matias Laba expecting to be paired with one of Russell Teibert or Andrew Jacobson for 2017. Fredy Montero had just started to play regularly at the time of the trade, with Nicolas Mezquida and Christian Bolanos swapping out at the 10 position below him. Out wide it was a shuffle between Alphonso Davies, Manneh, Christian Techera and Brek Shea, with each winger moving in and out of the starting XI based on opponent. With the acquisition of Tchani, him and Laba established a midfield partnership that instantly helped the team, as either midfielder was able to push forward knowing the other one would hang back and clean things up defensively. In Tony Tchani’s first appearence as a substitute against LA Galaxy, the Caps turned around a 2-1 deficit after he came on thanks to a brace from Laba as he pushed forwarad with Tchani behind him. The partnership was a key reason why the Caps had such a strong season and finished 3rd in the Western Conference, one point behind both the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers. While Laba’s season finished in mid-August because of injury, newcomer Aly Ghazal did not miss a beat, as the Caps went on a 7 game unbeaten run in the matches immediately after Laba’s injury.

The emergence of Alphonso Davies as a regular starter was very important as well, as his rise allowed for Manneh to become more expendable. Davies came very cheap, and fit into the system well. While his production was not necessarily there, he was able to help out in his 26 appearences (9 starts). A few months after Manneh left, Robinson did shore up the position, bringing in winger Bernie Ibini, who had his ups and downs but ultimately added depth. Along with Yordy Reyna returning in the summer, the position seemed in good enough shape going forward. They went on a pretty good run after the Manneh trade, spending most of the season in the top two places in the Western conference standings, falling just outside the first round bye positions with a 3-0 defeat away to Seattle and a 2-1 defeat away to Portland in the last 4 weeks, allowing both of them to stay that 1 point ahead of Vancouver.

2017 MLS Western Conference Standings (MLSSOCCER.COM)

Their season ended in heartbreak, as a commanding 5-0 victory over San Jose to open the playoffs was undone by a pair of clunkers against Seattle, falling 2-0 on aggregate. After having done well with their counter-attacking system all season long, Robinson strayed from what had worked and went for an extra defensive formula that did not look pretty, as they only managed 1 shot on goal in the two matches. After what had seemed such a positive season, they still left with more question than answers, which ended up with a lot of change in the offseason as a result of their lack of offence in the playoffs play a part in the demise of Robinson last year.

On the Columbus side of the equation, Manneh did not start much at the beginning of his tenure there, making the trade look better and better for Vancouver as Tchani continued to rack up the minutes as the season went along. Manneh did finish the season with 19 appearences (9 starts), but it was a stark contrast to the 27 appearences (26 starts) that Tchani picked up with Vancouver. Despite his limited playing time, Manneh still picked up 4 goals, a decent haul considering how hard it is to produce as a substitute. He played a key role as a super sub for Columbus, helping the Crew to a conference final berth as they narrowly fell 1-0 over two legs to eventual champs Toronto FC.  

Manneh ended up leaving the club shortly after that, making Vancouver look like geniuses for moving him on when they did, as Columbus received nothing for Manneh making his move down to Pachuca in Mexico. He would end up doing nothing noteworthy in Mexico, playing in 6 matches (no goals, no assists) before moving to FC Gallen in Switzerland. He played in 9 matches there, picking up an assist, before making the return back to expansion side FC Cincinnati for this season in MLS. He has done well to start the season, scoring 1 goal and picking up 1 assist in 4 matches as Cincinnati surprise a lot of teams as a loveable underdog. While many may question some of the players that they acquired, they got guys they believed in and have picked up results through a grinding system that players like Manneh and former Cap Kendall Waston can thrive in. While Manneh may not be as sought-after as when he was with Vancouver, he is still 24 and will likely carve out a solid MLS career at this rate.

For Tchani, his tenure in Vancouver ended the offseason after the Seattle elimination, as he was shipped to Chicago Fire for 150 000$ in TAM in February 2018. He did pretty well to start off his time in Chicago, playing regularly alongside Dax McCarthy and Bastian Schweinsteiger, but fell off in July and was waived in August. He still does not have a club and appears to have given up on an MLS career. The Whitecaps struggled the season after he left, and while there were a multitude of factors why, his departure is one of the key ones. A Robinson team with the likes of Waston, Tim Parker, Ghazal, Tchani, Reyna, Kamara and Davies would be devestating on set-pieces and on counters, but he shipped off Tchani and Parker as he attempted to become a more attacking side after the humiliating Seattle defeat. While it worked and they scored more goals last year, they also ended up shipping a lot more and their whole ship collapsed pretty spectacularily last season with lots of off-field struggles sinking their team.

Today:

While the trade was questionned heavily at the time, it ended up being a pretty shrewd move on Robinson’s part. Clearly, he and his staff had soured on Manneh, be it because of a supposed stagnation in his development or because of attiude concerns, they decided that they would shore up the midfield with the acqusition of an MLS veteran that ended up helping themselves a lot over the course of the season. With Tchani’s subsequent trade to Chicago, they ended up getting 450 000$ total in TAM for a player likely to leave for free anyways. Columbus, however, benefitted from Manneh’s failures abroad, as Alan Koch coming to Cincinnati and recruiting an old friend in Manneh allowed Columbus to recoup the 300 000$ dollars they had given up in the first place, as they traded his rights (which they had smartly retained).

Considering the trade happened almost exactly two years ago, it is weird to think how quickly each team involved has moved on with the key pieces, with both teams benefitting in the short-term with good runs to finish out the season and in the long-term with what they ended up getting. While Vancouver’s situation now is all over the place as they rebuild, the Manneh deal did not play a part in their troubles. Tchani’s departure was part of a bigger issue, one that partly cost Robinson his job. One may wonder what would have happened for the Caps if Robinson had stuck with what he’d been familiar with, as a squad of Marinovic, Nerwinski, Waston, Parker, De Jong, Tchani, Ghazal, Reyna, Davies, Techera, Kamara may have been able to grease their way through the Western if Robinson had stuck with a more defensive system. If Marc Dos Santos continues to improve his new lineup and does what he has done all his career and win (and play attrative football!), this will all be forgotten, but for now, we can’t help but ponder what if?

Verdict: 7/10 (The old win-win)


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