BEAVERTON, Ore. – Mwanga mania hit the Rose City on Friday as the Portland Timbers' newest acquisition took to the training field for the first time in his new uniform.
As if it were a segment of “This is Your Life, Danny Mwanga,” the 20-year-old forward got reacquainted with a number of familiar faces as they descended upon the Timbers training facility to catch a glimpse of the hometown hero. In addition to the throng of media members in attendance – many of whom covered Mwanga when he wore a Jefferson High School Democrats jersey – was his former Oregon State University head coach Steve Simmons.
“My heart just filled with warmth,” Simmons, describing his reaction to the trade that brought Mwanga from the Philadelphia Union in exchange for Jorge Perlaza. “He’s such a good kid and a good player and he just loves this area. This is home for him, outside of Africa. And all his support cast is here.”
Mwanga starred for two years at Oregon State in nearby Corvallis, Ore., receiving the Pac-10 Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year awards in that time. Prior to that, he played at Jefferson after fleeing the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2006.
Simmons provided a unique perspective into what the Timbers are getting in Mwanga, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft.
“The guys are going to love him,” Simmons said. “I’m telling you right now. He’s one of the most humble guys you’ll ever meet. And when you look at teammates that play with him they want him to do well because he’s so humble. He’s all about making the team do well. And with that attitude he’s going to fit in nicely.”
Simmons also said the fresh start Mwanga will receive in his adopted hometown may rejuvenate his career after he burst onto the scene with seven goals his rookie season. In year-and-a-half since, Mwanga’s production has tapered and along with it, his playing time.
“Part of performing at a high level athletically in any sport, I think, is to get your head right,” Simmons said. “And being in a good place mentally. Certainly a lot of good things have happened to Danny here in Portland and Corvallis, so that little shift and change might trigger some things.”
And Simmons said the grouping of three highly talented players up top, along with Darlington Nagbe and Kris Boyd, is enough to excite any soccer fan, let alone the passionate Timbers following.
He added that the chance to feed off other forwards benefits Mwanga’s style as opposed to his capacity in Philadelphia as a lone, target striker.
“For Danny, the adjustment here might be a healthy one on the field just because he’s potentially going to play with two strikers instead of playing up top by himself,” Simmons said. “And the other striker is Kris Boyd and you’ve got a whole cast of good people around him, so I think it’s going to be exciting for him.”
Simmons continued: “There is a lot of young talent on that team. And I’ve seen firsthand what Danny can do, and I’m excited to see them get going.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.