Abdoulie Mansally has been a polarizing figure at Real Salt Lake, and most opinions veer toward the negative pole with the Gambian left back.
Which is to say that for many, Mansally has been a disappointment since signing for the club. But the story is considerably more nuanced than that, and we'd do well to talk about the things he excelled at in addition to some of his points of failure.
It was difficulty to expect too much from Mansally in 2013. He's infamously left-wing oriented, playing from the back to the front through his career. For The Gambia, Mansally often plays as a left back, and when we signed him in 2012, that was where we deployed him. He instantly set to impressing with a string of strong attacking performances from the back.
2013 saw him start reasonably well, and his starting performance at San Jose to open the season was a strong one. But he was quickly relegated to the bench when two things worked against him: First, Lovel Palmer's performances were markedly stronger than perhaps expectations would have indicated, and Chris Wingert made his return to action. Second, he showed a side of his game that didn't help his efforts, when he was handed a one-match suspension for violent conduct following the early season 1-0 loss to D.C. United. This action certainly did not lead to him earning more minutes.
His expected role eventually met up with his actual role, which was as a player capable of stepping in occasionally but not one you'd entrust with the keys to the defense more often than necessary. This isn't to say he wasn't capable of exceeding those expectations at times - a strong substitute performance in the playoffs comes to mind. This is, of course, counterbalanced by the early red card he picked up against FC Dallas, which made things very difficult on RSL.
Mansally's 2014 will be an interesting one to watch. Chris Wingert is a year older (at least a year older than this time last year) and may be on the last few seasons of his career. Lovel Palmer, who stepped in at left back when Mansally struggled, is in Chicago alongside CJ Brown. That he's being kept around speaks to the faith the organization holds in his ability to improve - and given that he's only turning 25 this year, he has many years left in front of him.
He can improve in a number of ways. The first is by cutting down on the sometimes-reckless tackles that plague his game. He is often in a difficulty position as a left back precisely because of the primary advantage he provides by getting forward quickly and well, so it isn't as if these problems emanate from thin air. They are, however, fixable problems, and that will improve his game immensely.
Editor's note: This is part of a series of player profiles recapping the 2013 season and previewing the 2014 season. Player ratings were compiled via a vote by RSL Soapbox writers. Statistics are via mlssoccer.com.