Striker Danny Mwanga, 20, is reaching his potential with Major League Soccer's Philadelphia Union. Mwanga is second on the team in goals with five and ranks in the top 10 in MLS in combined goals and assists. He is a key reason why Philadelphia - in only its second season - is in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Success for Danny Mwanga was expected when he was picked first overall in the 2010 MLS Draft. The then teenager from the Democratic Republic of Congo was the Union's first-ever draft pick and so far is making the team's scouting department look like savvy professionals.
As anticipated, the former Oregon State University All-American has carried his collegiate success to the professional level. Mwanga had seven goals last year in his first professional season and already has five in the 2011 campaign. After recording only one assist in his first seven appearances this season, the striker has had five goals and two assists in his last 10 matches. The hot streak has vaulted him among the league's leading scorers this season.
"I was just trying to do even better than I did last year," said Mwanga. "For a rookie [in] my first year, I think I did good, and a lot of people told me I did good. But at the same time, for me personally, I knew I could do better, and I know that I can still do a lot better than I am doing now. So just looking at the last year, I just wanted to improve on that year and do even better than I did last year. I think that was kind of like motivation for me coming into this season."
Transition to Pro
Mwanga's growth as a player from the college to the professional ranks has been remarkable. The former Pac 10 Conference Player of the Year while at Oregon State has become a scoring threat who does not shy away from big moments. And the coaching staff and veteran leadership in Philadelphia have done wonders for his game.
"Yeah, they've helped me a lot," Mwanga added. "Obviously as a young player there are games where things don't really go your way. Sometimes you just tend to - you know - just put your head down and kind of get discouraged, but those are the times that the coaching staff did a good job trying to keep your heads in the game and trying to be focused. And then some veterans as well do the same thing. Even if they are not really going to tell you what to do, by just watching what they are doing, you know, watching their mentality during games week in and week out. Just watching what they are doing and looking at what they are doing is helping me a lot."
Union head coach Peter Nowak says Mwanga has performed well considering the high expectations.
"I think there was never a question of his form, there was always a question as what we need as a team from the moment. He's the guy that can change the game completely from one minute to another. I think as a young player you always get some, you know, especially after the season he had last year, that you have some pressure on your shoulders that he needs to handle. In some capacity those expectations, you know, it's difficult for them to handle it. So I think it's important right now for him to just recognize that, you know, listen, sometimes these games are hard and I'm not going to score. It doesn't really matter," Nowak said.
The success that Danny Mwanga has carried over from his rookie season is all the sweeter now that the Union is among the league's best teams.
"Yeah, it's a lot of fun. I mean, last year I was scoring a couple goals and the team wasn't doing so good. But this year, it's not just about me and [Sebastien] le Toux. You can see the whole offense is doing great," Mwanga noted. "Everyone is contributing in the team's success, and then on top of that, we're sitting at the very top of the Eastern Conference. So I think it's a great season so far and I'm really enjoying it. Right now I'm just trying to work even harder and harder. I'm trying to get better to help the team do even better than we are doing right now."
After the mid-season break for the MLS All-Star game, the Philadelphia Union and its Congolese striker Danny Mwanga are hoping to continue their success when they resume their MLS season July 29 against the Chicago Fire.