FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Head coach Steve Nicol had a plan for Kenny Mansally when he called him off the bench in the 68th minute of a then-scoreless deadlock with D.C. United on Saturday night at RFK Stadium.
Scoring a pair of highlight-reel goals in a two-minute span – and earning MLS player of the week honors in the process – wasn’t necessarily what he was expecting.
With starting forwards Kheli Dube (5-foot-11) and Zack Schilawski (5-foot-10) struggling to overcome the constant harassment and persistent physical pressure of D.C. center backs Dejan Jakovic (6-foot-2) and Juan Manuel Pena (6-foot), Nicol had hoped Mansally would counteract their physicality and improve the Revolution’s possession.
“The two guys [Jakovic and Pena] at the back were giving Kheli and Zack a hard time,” Nicol said to reporters after the game. “They were just getting manhandled. So we thought, put Kenny in there and get a bit more strength and hold the ball up, so we can get out.”
Mansally did more than just help the Revs kill off the game. While his ability to hold the ball under pressure did increase New England’s possession, it was his killer instinct when facing goal which ultimately provided the difference in a defensive battle.
Two clinical strikes within 15 minutes of entering the match earned the Revs a 2-0 victory, their first of the 2010 season and their first at RFK Stadium since 2006.
“The goals are icing on the cake,” Nicol said.
The eventual game-winner seemed to come out of nowhere in the 80th minute, when Mansally pounced on Chris Tierney’s deflected cross and one-timed a shot into the upper left corner from eight yards out.
“I’ve been scoring that kind of goal in practice, so when I was in that position I just tried to speed over there,” he said. “I think it was a great ball from Chris, then it deflected from Kheli and I was behind him, so I just judged it first time and finished.”
It was Mansally’s first league goal in more than a year, as he hadn’t found the back of the net in an MLS match since scoring late in a 1-1 draw with the New York Red Bulls on March 28, 2009.
After going more than 365 days without a goal in league play, the Gambian international must’ve liked the way it felt, because he did it again just two minutes later.
And this time, he made it look even better.
With the ball at his feet and a pair of defenders surrounding him at the top of the box, Mansally used two deft moves – including a fake shot which actually turned United defender Rodney Wallace all the way around – before lofting a left-footed shot into the far side netting.
The curling effort left D.C. goalkeeper Troy Perkins with virtually no chance.
“It was a great goal,” Perkins admitted after the game. “It was perfectly placed, and I’ll be the first guy to hold my hand up if I thought it was my fault, but I don’t know what I could’ve done on the second one.”
While it was Mansally’s finish on the second goal which drew the most attention, it was his composure on the ball and his smartly-timed fakes which opened up the space for the shot in the first place.
According to Mansally, the inspiration for the moves sprung from a desire to get the ball on his preferred foot.
“I was trying to get to my left side, so I just pushed the man back and then I hit it,” he said. “The player was stopping me from going to my right side, then I just finished with my left.”
It was the first career multiple-goal game for Mansally, who is now in his third full season with the Revolution despite just recently turning 21 years old.
Based on the quality of the strikes against United, it’s hard to believe that Mansally had scored just four MLS goals prior to his double on Saturday night and had never before won player of the week honors. Amazingly, that pair of goals in a two-minute span doubled his 2009 goal total (one) and pulled Mansally just one tally shy of his career-best single-season mark from 2008, when he scored three times.
After playing primarily as a forward in 2008 and early in 2009, Mansally converted to his more natural left-sided midfield position midway through last season, and thrived out on the flank as the Revolution’s starting left midfielder. However, current injuries to strikers Taylor Twellman and Edgaras Jankauskas have created a need up front, and as Mansally proved against United, he can certainly fill the void.
Whether his future will be as a forward or midfielder – or perhaps a combination of the two – remains to be seen, but no matter where he is on the field, Mansally expects the goals to keep coming.
“I wanted to get a hat trick (against D.C.), but I couldn’t,” he said. “Maybe next time, the next home game (against Toronto FC). I don’t know when I’m going to start, so any time I get a chance, any opportunity I get, I have to take it.”