Mwanga eager for fresh start in Portland

Posted: June 07, 2012

Danny Mwanga heard the rumors and saw the signs — but was surprisingly OK with all of it. 

Mwanga was traded Wednesday to the Portland Timbers for speedy Colombian striker Jorge Perlaza. But to hear Mwanga speak of a move that returned the Union's first MLS SuperDraft pick to the city where his career began, one might have thought he won the Powerball jackpot.

"There were rumors here and there, and I knew this might be something that was going to happen," Mwanga said on a teleconference held by the Timbers Wednesday night. "First of all, I want to thank the Philadelphia Union front office for giving me my first professional start, but I can't describe how happy I am to be back in Portland, where my career first began."

Mwanga, 20, returns to a place where he was a high school All-America at Jefferson High, He was a semifinalist for the prestigious MAC Herrmann college player of the year award during his sophomore season at Oregon State in 2010. After leaving his native homeland, Congo, his family set up shop in Portland, where Mwanga blossomed as a soccer player and found his way onto Union manager Peter Nowak's radar.

He became the Union's first overall draft pick in the same year and went on to finish with seven goals, and was in the discussion for MLS rookie of the year. Nagging injuries have plagued Mwanga throughout his career, particularly last season, when he missed time with shoulder and hip problems. This season, Mwanga played in nine of 11 total league matches, but his minutes were slim. The Union is 2-7-2 (eight points).

"I don't know why I didn't get playing time this season," Mwanga said. "I don't know why that decision was made, and I don't really have an answer. I'm just a player, I have no say in moves, I am not the one calling the shots."

Perlaza, 26, known for his speed and superior dribbling skills with the ball, struggled with the similarly underachieving Timbers (3-5-4, 13 points) , scoring only six goals since being signed by the club last March.

Members of the Union technical staff did not comment on the move, but Diego Gutierrez, the club's director of scouting is scheduled to speak with the media Thursday afternoon.

Mwanga could play as early as June 17, when Portland resumes MLS action at Los Angeles. Although there is some frustration that his career was unable to blossom as he and the Union hoped during his time in Philadelphia, there are no hard feelings, he said.

"Every player has a moment where you're struggling and you're trying to find yourself and things were a little bit tough sometimes," Mwanga said. "[But Nowak] gave me the opportunity to come [to Philadelphia]. He drafted me and brought me into the league. I don't think he would've done that if he didn't see potential in me."

He expressed similar sentiments about his new boss, Portland's John Spencer.

"I feel like they wanted me here, they made the Union an offer that they couldn't refuse," Mwanga said. "It's nice to feel wanted, especially by your new team. I have a lot of friends here and my family is here, so I am very happy. When you are comfortable, you are a better player and I am already comfortable, knowing I'll be able to continue my career in Portland." 

Contact Kerith Gabriel at gabrielk@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @sprtswtr.

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