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Manneh makes strong case
by Paul Kennedy, January 14th, 2013 11:26PM

TAGS:  development academy, mls, usl


[THIRTEEN FOR '13] Since the current format was adopted in 2000, clubs have used the MLS SuperDraft to snap up so-called phenoms, high school players who have decided to forgo college soccer and try their luck in MLS.

It's been hit or miss for clubs in the draft.

Real Salt Lake's first pick ever was U.S. U-17 Nik Besagno in 2005. Never heard of him? He was out of MLS by early 2009.

Then there were teams that passed on the likes of Eddie Johnson, Jozy Altidore and Eddie Gaven, all taken in the second round.

This year's sole high school prospect is not an American, but Gambian Kekuta Manneh, who made a name for himself on the Development Academy circuit and in the PDL and impressed enough during the first two days of the adidas MLS Player Combine that he could go as the first forward taken in Thursday's SuperDraft.

12. Kekuta Manneh (Austin Aztex-signed to Generation adidas contract)
Follow @kekuta16
11. Eriq Zavaleta (Indiana-signed to Generation adidas contract)
Follow @_AIR_RIQ_
10. Jason Johnson (VCU-signed to Generation adidas contract)
9. Gyasi Zardes (CSU Bakersfield-signed with Los Angeles Galaxy)
8. Walker Zimmerman (Furman-signed to Generation adidas contract)
Follow @thewalkerzim
7. Gale Agbossoumonde (Carolina RailHawks-signed with Toronto FC)
Follow @galecuse17
6. Oscar Sorto (Los Angeles Galaxy U-17/18s-signed with Los Angeles Galaxy)
Follow @oscaritosorto13
5. Mikey Lopez (North Carolina-signed to Generation adidas contract)
Follow @MLopez5tarheel
4. Amando Moreno (New York Red Bulls U-17/18s-signed with New York Red Bulls)
Follow @Amando_moreno
3. Andrew Farrell (Louisville-signed to Generation adidas contract)
Follow @louisville5
2. Ashton Bennett (Coastal Carolina)
1. Wil Trapp (Akron-signed with Columbus Crew)
Follow @wil_trapp

Manneh, 18, came to the United States via a pipeline constructed by Rush Soccer to provide opportunities for young Gambians.

The U.S. club opened a Rush club in Gambia in 2010 and soon was bringing back to clubs in network of U.S. programs.

Manneh ended up at Texas Rush AJ Auxerre, where he scored 35 goals in 23 games for its U-15/16s in 2010-11. He moved to Development Academy rival Lonestar in 2011-12 and had 23 goals in 17 games before moving to the PDL, where he had 12 goals in 10 games and was an all-conference pick last summer with the Austin Aztex.

Until recent years, few players came out of Gambia, so U.S. clubs have tapped into the underdeveloped player market. Kenny Mansally and Sainey Nyassi were discovered by the New England Revolution playing for Gambia's Baby Scorpions at the 2007 Under-20 World Cup in Canada. Other Gambians have followed to MLS but none came with the hype like Manneh has.

A senior at Lake Travis High School near Austin, Manneh has photos of him with Landon Donovan and David Beckham on his Twitter page from the week he spent last summer training at the Los Angeles Galaxy, but there is no way he will be around when the 2012 MLS champion picks with the last selection in the first round.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Manneh's performance at the combine, where he scored on Day 1, is that he has not been playing this fall.

While Jamaicans Jason Johnson and Deshorn Brown were expected to be the first two forwards taken in the draft -- Indiana's Eriq Zavaleta is being eyed as much for his potential as a defender -- their underwhelming performances on the first two days of the draft have opened the door for Santa Clara's Erik Hurtado and Manneh to move into consideration for the top forwards in the 2013 draft.

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