Open Cup debacle helps spur Timbers' move for Mwanga
PORTLAND, Ore. – The Portland Timbers' struggle to score goals bore its first casualty Wednesday when the team announced they had swapped forwards, sending Jorge Perlaza to the Philadelphia Union in exchange for Danny Mwanga.
While it’s a homecoming for former Oregon State University and Jefferson High School star, the Timbers' meager total of 12 goals in 12 games – two of those coming from own goals – paved the way. And Perlaza was a main culprit, having failed to find the net in 10 games (six starts).
The tipping point came last Wednesday when the Timbers were defeated 1-0 by amateur club Cal FC in US Open Cup play, unable to finish any of their 37 shots.
“We had a disappointing result, a very, very disappointing US Open Cup,” Timbers general manager Gavin Wilkinson said during a press conference at JELD-WEN Field. “And looking at that and how we could move forward and should move forward, Danny became a player of interest again and there were a few phone calls and it’s been a long, long weekend to get the deal done. And I think it’s good for Philly, it’s possibly what they need, and it will definitely, definitely help us.”
WATCH: Mwanga's blast against Chivas USA
Wilkinson said that while last week’s result may have greased the wheels, the club had targeted Mwanga, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft, during the offseason.
The fact that the 20-year-old DR Congo native played high school soccer in the Rose City and in college at nearby Oregon State made it a perfect fit if only for one reason: He knows exactly the pressure he’ll be under playing in front of the Timbers' passionate fan base.
“It’s nice to have homegrown talent playing in front of their fans, fans that they’ve grown up in and around, and be accountable for their actions,” Wilkinson said. “He feels just as much responsibility as I do, as [head coach] John Spencer, so I think there’s accountability. And bringing Danny into a situation that is a tremendous positive for him should pay dividends.”
Like Perlaza, Mwanga, however, hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations this year. After scoring seven goals his rookie season and five last year, he hasn’t scored this year while struggling to find a place in Union manager Peter Nowak’s system. He has just five starts and nine appearances.
Wilkinson said Mwanga just needs the opportunity – one he’ll get playing alongside Scottish striker Kris Boyd.
“Danny is a good finisher,” Wilkinson said. “He has not [put up] the best numbers, but he’s a young player and I think he’s been starved of opportunities in Philly.”
Wilkinson also expects Mwanga’s style of play to better complement Boyd, who leads the team with four goals but has not produced at the level expected and missed a crucial penalty in the loss to Cal FC. Wilkinson said that while Perlaza’s speed can break down a defense, Mwanga can better challenge for balls in the box.
“Do we need more goals from Kris Boyd? Yes,” Wilkinson said. “Do we need to look at how to better get those goals out of Kris Boyd? Yes. And this is part of the decision. Bringing Danny Mwanga in, we feel he’ll be more inclined to link up with Kris Boyd, play around Kris Boyd and support Kris Boyd, and also bring another focal point that will challenge for the ball.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.