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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As summer temperatures continue to increase, so does Austin's "Party Island"—a hundreds-strong army of kayakers and paddle boarders who gather each weekend in the middle of Lady Bird Lake.
Born from the pandemic, the swarm of paddleboarding partiers has continued to grow each summer and can be seen from the nearby Lamar Boulevard Bridge. And while "Party Island" certainly lives up to one half of its name, it's not actually an island at all: instead, it's located at a shallow sandbar near Lou Neff Point.
With beers, burgers from portable grills and even DJ turntables in hand, more friends and strangers continue to beat the heat in new ways at the distinct Austin hangout.
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If you are a committed, grunge-wearing resident of the Pacific Northwest, it is easy–almost automatic–to look at Texas as an extraordinarily dry, hot and culturally oppressive place that is better to avoid, especially in the summer. Our two granddaughters live with their parents in Portland.
Recently we decided to take the older girl, who is 15, to Dallas. Setting aside the summer heat, a Portlander can adjust to the vibes of Austin without effort. So let’s take Texas with all of its excesses straight up. Dallas, here we come.
Our 15-year-old granddaughter and her sister, 12, have spent summer weeks with us, usually separately so that we could better get to know each individually. In visits focused on Austin and Port Aransas, the girls seemed to be developing an affection for Texas.
Houston and Dallas are two great American cities, the 4th and 9th largest, each loaded with cultural treasures, each standing in glittering and starchy contrast to Austin’s more louche, T-shirts and shorts ways.
Three hours up I-35, Dallas loomed before us as a set of gray skyscrapers in a filmy haze, accessed only through a concrete mixmaster of freeways, ramps and exits. I drove with false confidence. Be calm, I said to myself, it will all end in 10 minutes under the hotel entrance canopy. And it did.
The pool at the Crescent Court Hotel in Dallas. (Crescent Court Hotel)
We stayed three nights at the Crescent Court Hotel ($622 a night for two queens), a high-end hotel in Uptown, patronized by women in white blazers, business people in suits, and tall, lean professional athletes, their shiny Escalades and Corvettes darting in and out, and other celebrities like Bill Barr, the former attorney general who shoe-horned his ample self into a Toyota.
Each morning as I walked to Whole Foods for a cappuccino, a fellow identified by a bellman as Billy the Oilman arrived in his Rolls Royce Phantom. Where does he park? “Wherever he wants to. He likes the Starbucks here.”
We garaged our more modest set of wheels for the visit. We were chauffeured for tips by Matt Cooney and Alfonza “The Rev” Scott in the hotel’s black Audi sedan. They drove us to museums, restaurants and past the enclaves of the rich and famous. In Highland Park, The Rev pointed out the homes of the Dallas Cowboys' Jerry Jones and Troy Aikman along with the family compound of the Hunts, oil and gas tycoons.
The Dallas Museum of Art’s “Cartier and Islam” exhibit (until Sept. 18) attracted an older crowd; the nearby Perot Museum of Nature and Science was a powerful whirlpool of kids’ groups ricocheting from the Tyrannosaurus Rex to the oil fracking exhibit. Watch your shins.
A Geogia O'Keeffe oil painting called "Ranchos Church, New Mexico" at the Amon Carter Museum of Modern Art. (Rich Oppel)
For us, the best museum was the Amon Carter Museum of Modern Art in Fort Worth, a 50-minute, madcap drive away via a 75 mph toll lane along I-30. Don’t try it during rush hour. The Carter has an exquisite collection of Remington paintings and sculptures and an excellent array of 19th and 20th-century paintings as well. Pick one museum? The Amon Carter. Peaceful, beautiful, uncrowded, free admission and small enough to manage in two hours.
The Fort Worth Stockyards, a place of history (with a dab of schmaltz), fun and good shopping, filled one of our mornings. The 98 acres brand the city as Cowboy Town, with a rodeo and a twice-daily (11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.) cattle drive. We shopped for boots, drank coffee and watched the “herd” of 18 longhorns. So languid was their progress that if this were a real market drive the beef would have been very tough and leathery before it hit the steakhouse dinner plate.
The cattle drive at the Fort Worth Stockyards. (Rich Oppel)
But we could identify: the temperature was 97. “I saw a dog chasing a cat today,” said the emcee, deploying a very old joke. “It was so hot that both were walking.”
With limited time, we chose three very different restaurants:
- Nobu, in the Crescent Court Hotel; Jia, a modern Chinese restaurant in Highland Park; and Joe T. Garcia’s in Fort Worth. Nobu’s exotic Japanese menu set us back $480, with tip, for four (we had a guest), but it was worth it.
- Jia was an ordinary suburban strip mall restaurant, but with good food and a reasonable tab of $110 for four.
- Joe T.’s is an 85-year-old Fort Worth institution (think Matt’s El Rancho but larger), a fine Mexican restaurant where a meal with two drinks was $115.
Sushi at high-end restaurant Nobu. (Crescent Hotel)
It was all a splurge for a grandchild’s visit. Now we will get back to our ordinary road trips of Hampton Inns, where a room rate is closer to the Crescent Court’s overnight parking rate of $52. And to corner cafes in small towns.
Did Dallas change our 15-year-old’s view of Texas? “Yes. I think it’s a lot cooler than I did. The fashion, the food.” So, not only Austin is cool. Take Texas as a whole. It’s a big, complex, diverse and wonderful state.