Just prior to Christmas 2009, Philadelphia Union manager Peter Nowak flew to Portland, met with Danny Mwanga and convinced the Oregon State star to begin his professional career in MLS rather than in France.
Less than a month later, Nowak made Mwanga the first overall pick in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft, and their professional relationship began. That relationship came to an abrupt halt two two-and-a-half years later, though – on Wednesday, the Union traded Mwanga to the Portland Timbers in exchange for Colombian forward Jorge Perlaza.
Making his first public comments since the deal, Nowak said Thursday that it wasn’t easy to trade a player so closely tied to the inception of the franchise but that the move was necessary to kick start a sputtering offense.
“For the future, we didn’t know how it was going to play out,” Nowak recalled of his initial meeting with Mwanga back in 2009. “Of course, we wished this thing was going to work the other way. But that’s the reality we are in. The most important thing is looking at the technical side and to make sure the team will progress and things will get better.”
Mwanga showed some flashes of his first overall pick potential during his tenure in Philly but never truly lived up to the title. The 20-year-old DR Congo-born striker struggled with injuries and failed to mesh well with the team, especially his fellow strikers.
Nowak believes Perlaza will be a better complement up top with his Colombian compatriot Lionard Pajoy.
“Danny Mwanga was good with the ball at his feet and was good to draw defenders but it was difficult for him to stretch the field,” Nowak said. “And I think with Jorge right now, we have someone who can stretch the field and can make bigger and better runs off of Pajoy.”
The Union (2-7-2) certainly need to create more offense if they are to have any chance of climbing the Eastern Conference standings. They are currently tied for last in the league with just eight goals, with two players – Pajoy and midfielder Gabriel Gómez contributing to all but one of those tallies.
Despite being second in franchise history with 12 career goals, Mwanga had not scored for the Union in nearly 1,300 minutes.
“We have to be more dangerous,” Nowak said. “We’re moving along but we’re not there yet. And we cannot wait until it’s too late.”
Perlaza, like Mwanga, has struggled to score having logged six goals (all in 2011) in 41 appearances since coming to Portland last year. But Nowak believes a change of scenery, as well as familiarity with some of Philadelphia’s players like Pajoy and fellow Colombian Carlos Valdés, could get him going.
And the fact that Perlaza is only 26 years old is also beneficial to the Union – even if Mwanga is six years younger and seemed to be a big part of a young core that the club was touting.
“We’re still bringing along our young kids,” Nowak said. “It’s not like we’re moving away from that philosophy. But it’s important to find the right pieces into the team you already have.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.