Yesterday, Real Salt Lake traded Abdoulie Mansally to Houston Dynamo. The response from vast swathes of fans was quick, and it was unhappy.
This is not because Mansally was a team star, and it was not because he was a valued youngster who could go on to become a top-notch figure on the team. It was also not entirely because of his play, which had improved tenfold from the time he arrived in the team.
Some worried about the team's depth without him, and this was certainly a justifiable concern. Mansally was a rare bright spot in a team that struggled for consistency, starting matches with regularity when purported first-choice left back Demar Phillips was absent, either through injury or through international duty. With question marks still looming over the soon-to-start 2016 season, trading away a player that was valuable in 2015 seemed like a questionable decision.
This is not a point that should be ignored: Mansally did grow in importance over the last year, and certainly he did over the last three-plus years since joining the team. It is certainly telling that in his first and second full seasons with the club, Mansally was a prime target for 'internet general managers' in their trading blocks. He struggled for consistency, and he struggled to put together more than one match without a shocking tackle.
2015 saw Mansally escape those trappings a bit, and while he did see only his third red card of his nine-year MLS career, it came near the end of the season when it seemed nothing went Real Salt Lake's way at any point. He transcended his earlier struggles, certainly, and for that, Mansally continued to earn the hearts of fans.
But the love for Abdoulie Mansally was never because an amazing player. He was often showing as a good player, and occasionally a very good left back — but he was never the first name on a team sheet, and he was never the paragon of defensive consistency. Instead, the love for Mansally came because of his connection with communities both local and global.
His involvement with local youth made him a recognizable face, and he was always genuine and caring in those situations. Beyond that, he was constantly trying to further the wellbeing of those in The Gambia, where he comes from. He involved himself with many charity efforts, and he went so far as to start the Mansally Foundation with some reported assistance from Real Salt Lake. Though he is no longer a player at the club, one would hope that organizational support remains — and that he finds similar levels of compassion from those with whom he interacts at Houston Dynamo.
Abdoulie Mansally's lasting impact at Real Salt Lake will never have been one we'll remember on the field. His occasional awful tackles are likely to stick out more than his one goal for the club — and that was a good one, too. Instead, his impact was more personal. He will be missed in Utah.
We'll end with this — Mansally's goal against Portugal in the 2007 Under-20 World Cup for The Gambia. It's a stunning free kick, and his excitement is palpable.