Entering the final stretch of the 2017 Major League Soccer regular season, Columbus Crew SC is a 97 percent lock for the Eastern Conference playoffs (per FiveThirtyEight). The almost-inevitable Black & Gold playoff qualification is a product of Crew SC's unwavering intention to mercilessly attack opponents with speed from all angles. Midseason acquisition Kekuta Manneh is a key part of implementing that plan.
For his potential, his play and pure ability, Manneh — a 22-year-old naturalized citizen of the U.S. — has earned the No. 23 spot in MLSsoccer.com's prestigious 24 Under 24 list in 2017. It's his fourth year on the list — earning No. 12, No. 2 and No. 5 rankings in 2014-16, respectively.
After a tumultuous 2016 and a fundamental revamp by Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter, youth injected itself into not only the roster, but the starting lineup as well. Manneh was acquired by Crew SC in a crafty bit of transfer business by Berhalter on March 30, adding international-level quality, searing pace on either wing and an established finishing ability to an attacking front already headlined by Ola Kamara, Justin Meram and Federico Higuain.
The fifth-year professional and USMNT fringe player has produced seven team goals (4 goals, 3 assists) since joining Columbus in just 772 minutes of action. His young career has already passed the 25 goals mark (he has 26) and 15 assists mark. He's started 71 MLS regular season games and appeared in 117 matches.
Manneh has made 16 appearances (nine starts) for Crew SC in 2017: two starts and five substitute appearances at left midfield, two starts and two substitute appearances at right midfield, four starts as an attacking midfielder and one start as a left winger this season. He made his Crew SC debut as a substitute against New York City FC (April 29) and his first start in a road contest at the Montreal Impact (May 13). He opened his goals and assists account with the Black & Gold via a game-winning strike and assist against the Montreal Impact (June 24). He followed that up with his second goal of the season, another game-winner, at Minnesota United FC (July 4). He nailed goal No. 3 in a start at home against the Chicago Fire (August 12) and recorded his fourth goal and third assist against his former team, the Vancouver Whitecaps, en route to earning MLSSoccer.com’s Team of the Week honors.
With a year still left in his 24 Under 24 eligibility, Manneh adds a rare experience and youth to Crew SC's roster. According to TransferMarkt, Berhalter's Crew SC plays its league matches with the lowest average age (25.8-years old) and the lowest average Staring XI age (26.0-years old).
The Black & Gold remain at home in the push for the playoffs when they play D.C. United on Saturday, September 30 at 7:30 p.m. ET. Columbus closes the regular season on the road at Orlando City SC on October 15 and at New York City FC on October 22.
MLSsoccer.com's 24 Under 24 list will culminate on Thursday, Sept. 28 as the top 10 will be revealed on a special edition of ExtraTime Live at 2 p.m. ET. The show will include exclusive interviews with players featured in the top 10.
Players who are 23 years of age and younger as of October 22 – the final day of the 2017 MLS regular season – are eligible for this year’s ranking. It's a similar age limit to the one used around the world for the Olympic soccer tournament and the PFA Young Player of the Year award in England.
The player rankings will be unveiled beginning with Nos. 21-24 on Monday, Sept. 25, 16-20 on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 11-15 on Wednesday, Sept. 27 and the top 10 announced on the show.
Past No. 1 ranked players include US national team players Darlington Nagbe (2013) and DeAndre Yedlin (2014), and Canadian international Cyle Larin (2016).
All MLS players aged 23 or younger before October 22, 2017 were eligible for consideration. The final list of 24 players is determined by a panel made up of top soccer media members and the MLSsoccer.com editorial staff. The panel ranked the eligible players based on the following criteria:
- Technical: first touch, dribbling, shooting, heading
- Soccer IQ: positioning, reading game, situational understanding, tactical awareness
- Physical Attributes: balance, agility, speed, endurance, strength, vertical leap
- Personality: attitude, marketability, media savviness, charisma, intangibles
- Potential: improvability, ceiling, national team potential, potential transfer value
- Steve Davis (FourFourTwo.com)
- Kyndra de St. Aubin (Minnesota United broadcaster)
- Thomas Floyd (Goal.com)
- Cole Grossman (former player)
- Kristan Heneage (freelance writer)
- Alexi Lalas (FOX commentator)
- Patrick LeDuc (RDS)
- Matt Pentz (freelance writer)
- Paul Tenorio (FourFourTwo.com)
- Bobby Warshaw (former player/writer)
- Benjamin Baer (New Media Editor)
- Andrew Wiebe (Senior Editor)
- Matt Doyle (Senior Writer)
- Will Parchman (Contributor)
- Sam Stejskal (Contributor)
- Alicia Rodriguez (Contributing Editor)
- David Gass (ExtraTime Live/Radio host)
- Charles Boehm (Contributing Editor)