CHESTER, Pa. — John Hackworth paused for a moment when a reporter asked if he was upset that Danny Mwanga drew a yellow card for taking off his shirt following his equalizer in a 1-1 tie against the LA Galaxy on Wednesday. And then he delivered his answer in the simplest of terms.
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“No,” the Union coach said. “Not at all.”
Some things are just worth extra celebrations.
Mwanga’s goal, which came in the 83rd minute, gave the Union a hard-fought draw against the vaunted Galaxy and perhaps something more: The revival of one of the team’s most exciting players. Mwanga, a Rookie of the Year finalist in 2010, had yet to score coming into Wednesday’s game at PPL Park, but hopes his first goal will get his 2011 season in gear.
“As a forward, you want to be able to produce — getting assists, getting goals,” said Mwanga, who scored seven times last year. “Not being able to do that is frustrating. But at the same time, you can’t rely on that. You’ve just got to keep working, keep your head up. It’s a long season; the goals will come.”
Hackworth — filling in for manager Peter Nowak, who was playing in a charity soccer game in Poland — had a premonition Mwanga would finally get his first goal of the season. He even told Mwanga so after inserting him into the game at halftime.
“He trained well this week,” Hackworth said of Mwanga. “I had a good feeling about it. I told him he was gonna get one. He came on and had a lot of confidence. When he’s like that, he’s as good as anyone in this league.”
Mwanga certainly looked to be at his most explosive, which was a critical development for a team that’s been offensively challenged for most of the season, Wednesday’s first half against LA included.
The equalizer came when Mwanga picked off a back pass from the Galaxy’s Sean Franklin, took a good touch to get by goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, and scored the Union’s sixth goal of the year.
WATCH: Mwanga steals, scores vs. LA
“Obviously we were looking for a goal, so we were starting to pressure, trying to win the ball,” Mwanga said. “It was very good anticipation by me. I knew he was going to play it there.”
For Mwanga, it’s been difficult trying to mesh with new acquisition Carlos Ruiz and rediscovering the magic he created with Sebastien Le Toux last year, all while being shifted in and out the starting lineup. And on Wednesday, the second-year striker also played a new position, essentially staying on the right flank while Le Toux and Ruiz worked up top.
But there is reason to believe Wednesday’s game will help Mwanga find his form. After all, it was in the middle of May last season when the Congolese striker netted his first goal before going on a tear.
“It was definitely a huge confidence booster for [Mwanga],” said fellow second-year player Jack McInerney, who also gave Philly an offensive spark off the bench. “Getting that first goal will only help him the rest of the season.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.