VANCOUVER — With the seconds ticking down Saturday, it looked like Kekuta Manneh would have the last laugh against his former team.
Then the player he was traded for added one final twist to keep the Vancouver Whitecaps atop Major League Soccer's crowded Western Conference standings.
Tony Tchani scored in the 92nd minute against the club that swapped him for Manneh as Vancouver salvaged a 2-2 draw with the Columbus Crew.
The defensive midfielder poked his fourth of the season past Columbus goalkeeper Zack Steffen in stoppage time from in tight on a shot that took a slight deflection to send B.C. Place Stadium into a frenzy.
A member of the Crew from 2011 until the trade for Manneh in March, Tchani took a couple of steps in the heat of the moment with an eye towards celebrating his equalizer before catching himself as a show of respect.
"When I scored, I didn't realize I was playing against my former team," he said. "I realized (and) stopped ... just respect."
Manneh had given the visitors a 2-1 lead in the 63rd minute, also the winger's fourth, after setting up Ola Kamara's goal that tied the game in the first half.
Dealt to the Crew after four-plus seasons with the Whitecaps for Tchani and US$300,000 in allocation money, Manneh posed for selfies with fans before the game and got a nice ovation during player introductions, but those warm feelings were mostly put aside once things kicked off.
Tied 1-1 in the second half, Manneh grabbed the ball and sped through midfield with the Whitecaps retreating before blasting a shot past David Ousted.
"I was really excited coming back to Vancouver," said Manneh, who also didn't celebrate his goal and got another round of applause when he was subbed off in the 70th minute. "This city gave me everything ... everything I am today. I basically grew up here. I consider this a home for me. It was a bit emotional."
Manneh, who has had a difficult season with Columbus, made just his ninth start of 2017.
"It's tough. Life in a different city, different country," said Manneh, taken fourth overall by the Whitecaps at the 2013 MLS SuperDraft. "The system is different. Everything's to perfection. It took me a while to adjust.
"I think I'm caught up to speed."
Manneh showed flashes of genius during his time in Vancouver but injuries, his fit into the scheme and an expiring contract played into him moving on.
"As soon as I got to Columbus, (head coach Gregg Berhalter) told me, 'I think they gave up on you too early. We know what you can do,'" said Manneh. "I wanted to be here, but sometimes things don't work that way."
Saturday's dramatic finish means both the Whitecaps (13-9-6) and the Crew (13-12-5), fourth in the East, each stretched their unbeaten streaks to six games.
Now 7-2-3 over the last 12 to climb up the West table, Vancouver has 45 points — one better than the Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders and Sporting Kansas City. The Whitecaps and Sporting have six games left on their schedules, while the Sounders have five, and the Timbers just four.
Fredy Montero also scored for Vancouver before setting up Tchani's goal on a chipped cross to the back post.
"We weren't sharp enough," said Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson, whose team was playing its third match in eight days. "We were maybe 80 per cent.
"That worked to their favour."
After Manneh gave Columbus the lead, Vancouver midfielder Yordy Reyna hit the post for a second time in the 81st minute before Tchani's late heroics.
The Whitecaps opened the scoring the 15th minute when Reyna flicked a Cristian Techera pass into the path of a streaking Montero, who beat Steffen for the striker's 12th.
The lead didn't last long.
Manneh took on Vancouver defender Jake Nerwinski down the left before playing a cross into the box four minutes later that Kamara got a toe on in front of centre back Tim Parker to beat Ousted for his 16th.
It was the first chapter of what would eventually turn into Tchani and Manneh's show.
"I think it's fitting," Robinson said of both players' contributions. "I know what Kekuta can do. I've had a great relationship with the boy, and I think he showed today moments of brilliance.
"We get along great. Happy for him, but happy for Tony as well. Tony's come up big for us a number of times this year.
"He might not get the plaudits that maybe Kekuta does, but he certainly should today."
Notes: The Whitecaps wrap up a four-game homestand next Saturday against the Colorado Rapids. ... Vancouver is now 8-3-4 at B.C. Place this season.
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