New Real Salt Lake defender Kenny Mansally, a Gambian international recently picked up off waivers from New England, wasted little time in making his presence felt.
In his debut against the 3rd place Seattle Sounders in a standing-room-only Rio Tinto Stadium on the Fourth of July, it was do-or-die for Mansally, a 23-year-old journeyman in Major League Soccer who was playing in his 90th league game in just his sixth year.
With Jamison Olave still nursing his injured calf back to health and Tony Beltran out due to a groin strain it was Mansally’s time to shine — or find himself back on the bench Saturday when Portland comes to town.
Though RSL drew 0-0 with the Sounders the shutout proved one thing.
Mansally’s performance earned him “defender of the match” honors and now RSL head coach Jason Kreis now has an awfully tough decision to make regarding his backline.
“I felt like he was really ready for his opportunity and the past couple of days he has been very sharp in training so I was excited to see him go out tonight and I think he proved us right a little bit. He was very, very good,” Kreis said.
Considering Kreis is rarely one to hand out superlatives, the coach’s assessment of Mansally was somewhat shocking.
Mansally filled Beltran’s shoes admirably, however, using his taller frame to muscle off diminutive Sounders midfielder Mauro Rosales and irritate forward Fredy Montero to the point of his being substituted in the 73rd minute.
Mansally also made several electric overlapping runs from his left back position during the match and had one glorious attacking opportunity in the first half.
On that play he burned Sounders defender Matt Burch 1-on-1 and found himself in front of goal, with a golden opportunity to score in his first game wearing the claret and cobalt.
Only after the Gambian international left did the Sounders do anything offensively, and that was after minute 79 when he exited for midfielder Jonny Steele and Kreis decided to go for the win, electing to play with just three in back.
Which begs the question: will RSL fans see Mansally back in uniform on Saturday when Portland comes calling to Rio Tinto?
“Obviously we have some special players in [Olave and Beltran] and if they were to come healthy they’re probably going to get a little more consideration because of how long they’ve been here. But it won’t be an easy choice, and that’s what we need. We need players [like Mansally] to come in and make a statement for themselves and really make the decisions for us difficult,” Kreis said.
What was amazing about Mansally’s performance is that he rarely plays wing back; his natural position is forward — though he does play left back with the Gambian national team.
And with an RSL team needing three points desperately, it’s clear where the Gambian’s mindset is after starting out Saturday’s match on what he said was an imbalance of sorts.
“I was feeling a little bent [in the first three minutes] so that was preventing me to go forward more, but I always keep going strong. The energy was going good, but we want a win,” Mansally said.
Considering Mansally has a slight shoulder separation according to team officials it will be interesting to see what he can really do when he’s healthy.
Stay tuned for more on Mansally’s RSL debut on pingroof.com
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