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Jersey Number: 23
Hometown: Bakau, Gambia
Former club: New England Revolution
It seems only fitting that the Austin FC player who has played in the most far-reaching corners of the globe finally gets to come home. Manneh, who signed to ATXFC as a free agent in January, is originally from Bakau, Gambia but grew up just a few miles from his new team's home.
"Once I signed with Austin, all my friends texted me, 'I can't believe you're back home,'" Manneh said. "So I'm really excited to play in front of them."
Manneh had attracted the attention of American scouts while growing up in Gambia and became part of a growing soccer pipeline from the up-and-coming soccer nation to the U.S. Manneh hadn't ever seen America as a soccer hub, but he soon found success with the prestigious Lone Star Academy and later became a standout scorer for the now-defunct Austin Aztex. While many of his peers were still attending Lake Travis High School, 18-year-old Manneh, now a Generation Adidas signee, was about to be selected as the fourth overall pick for the Vancouver Whitecaps.
He made a name for himself in his four seasons with the Whitecaps. Manneh racked up 22 goals and played in over 100 games in Vancouver, helping the team to the Amway Canadian Championships and ranking second on the MLS's 12 under 24 list along the way.
By 2017, Manneh signed with Columbus Crew SC. Injuries had begun to mar Manneh's meteoric rise, but he still got valuable leadership under coach Gregg Berhalter, who now coaches the U.S. Men's National Team.
Manneh spent a season with the Crew, scoring four goals in 19 games played. Unfortunately, he was unable to keep his contract for the following season and began hopping around the map, playing six matches in two very different climates for FC St. Gallen in Switzerland and CF Pachuca in Liga MX.
Travel-weary and beleaguered, Manneh returned to the MLS in 2019 with FC Cincinnati, scoring four goals in 29 games played before switching over to the New England Revolution for the COVID-ridden 2020 season.
Manneh said he's changed on and off the pitch since his time as a teenager with the Whitecaps.
At 26, Manneh has repped six different professional jerseys in three different nations. Now with his hometown Verde jersey, it only feels right that he can play for a team close to home.
"I've always thought, 'if there's a city in the country that deserves a team, it's Austin,'" Manneh said. "Growing up here... you know how much people love the game."
With Austin FC
The only player with Austin roots is also the team's top scorer.
At Austin FC's first-ever scrimmage, Manneh scored two goals against USL team OKC Energy, earning him praise from Head Coach Josh Wolff.
"Kekuta has a number of places that he could play for us," Wolff said. "I've been happy with Kekuta's progress and more just his personality and his character. What he brings each day, it's been great."
A winger who was the youngest player in MLS history to do a hat trick, Manneh brings skill and experience beyond his years to Austin FC. Manneh could see starting time alongside Designated Player Cecilio Dominguez and Danny Hoesen, although he could potentially compete for a spot with young forward Rodney Redes,.
Regardless, Manneh's preseason goals are sure to get him noticed as he adjusts to his hometown team.
When asked about whether he feels pressured by Dominguez, Redes or other potential starters, Manneh said he doesn't really think about it. All he knows is he's going to "fight every day."
Off the pitch
Manneh left Gambia a few years after his mother passed at age 10. Shortly after her death, Manneh began dedicating himself to the art of soccer, playing against a wall or with friends before he got the opportunity to go abroad.
Once in America, Manneh found a new family in the Niccums, a host family who took him in as he became accustomed to Austin and the U.S. A Black Muslim, Manneh and the White Christian Niccum family had some cultural hiccups at first but eventually grew an undeniable bond.
After Manneh left Austin for the Whitecaps, the Niccums were a part of his citizenship ceremony in 2016, and the Austin family is more than happy to watch Manneh rep their city once again for Austin FC.
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After reaching Stage 4 last week of Austin Public Health's risk-based guidelines, Austin-Travis County is now at the Stage 5 threshold with a seven-day average of 50 hospitalizations and dwindling ICU capacity.
While unenforceable under Gov. Greg's Abbott order against local mandates, vaccinated individuals are asked to choose drive-through and curbside options, outdoor activities, social interactions with limited group sizes, as well as social distance and wearing masks indoors. Partially or unvaccinated individuals are asked to avoid gatherings, travel, dining and shopping, choose curbside and delivery options, as well as wear a mask on essential trips.
Flashing back to early-pandemic times, hospitals are at critical capacity—the 11 county Trauma Service Region of 2.3 million people is fluctuating at 16 staffed beds, according to APH.
In a statement on behalf of Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health and St. David's Healthcare, a spokesperson said that hospitals are asking residents to "help us and each other" by getting vaccinated and continuing to utilize safety practices to slow the spread of the virus.
According to the statement, a "longstanding" nurse staffing challenge combined with the recent COVID-19 spike is putting "extraordinary pressure" on hospital systems.
Along with the unmitigated spread of the virus in unvaccinated, the more contagious Delta variant is also to blame for the spike in cases. The seven-day moving average of COVID hospitalizations in the Austin area reached the Stage 5 threshold of 50 on Friday, triggering local health officials to ask residents to take action.
Local hospitals have a "surge plan" that includes utilization of "all available patient care space and employees within our hospitals and in other settings" that will go into effect when capacity is hit, according to the statement.
The hospitals are working on sourcing supplemental staff and emphasized that emergency care will still be available but it may involve patient transfers "in order to provide the most appropriate care."
Healthcare systems have hit this threshold previously during the pandemic: the city held an alternate care site at the Austin Convention Center from January to March of this year.
"Our responsibility during this pandemic continues to be balancing our readiness to care for patients with COVID-19, while making sure patients who depend on our hospitals receive needed and timely care," the statement said. "We do not want to see necessary non-COVID care delayed as it was during the early stages of the pandemic."
This story has been updated to after publication to include that Austin has reached the Stage 5 threshold.
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Austin legend Willie Nelson will perform at the Texas Capitol today, his first large performance since the pandemic began, closing out a four-day long march across Central Texas to build support for federal voting protections.
Organized by The Poor People's Campaign, the march began in Georgetown on Wednesday and will end with a 10 a.m. rally at the Capitol featuring appearances from former U.S. Congressman Beto O'Rourke and Rev. Dr. William Barber.
Willie Nelson (with Charlie Sexton & friends) will play a free concert at the Poor People's Campaign march for democracy & justice in Austin this Saturday! https://t.co/zZSA0BpbWA
Sign up to join us and see Willie at 10am Saturday: https://t.co/KrDPIFIvST
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) July 29, 2021
The rally calls on Congress to "stop attacks on democracy" by ending the filibuster, pass all provisions of the For the People Act, restore the 1965 Voting Rights Act, raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour and pass permanent protections for all 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Nelson denounced election law proposals gaining traction in red states, such as Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 3 in Texas, which 55 House Democrats foiled by fleeing to Washington, D.C., on July 12.
The bills would require additional ID verifications for mail-in ballots, allow partisan poll watchers "free movement" and prohibit elections officials from sending absentee ballot applications to voters who didn't request one.
"Laws making it more difficult for people to vote are unAmerican and are intended to punish people of color, the elderly and disabled," Nelson said. "If you can't win by playing the rules, then it's you and your platform–not everyone else's ability to vote."
The march is in the spirit of the Selma to Montgomery March of 1965, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which protested the blocking of Black Americans' right to vote by Jim Crow laws.