PORTLAND, Ore. – Danny Mwanga may be the newest member of the Portland Timbers, but he knows just what it means to pull on the green jersey – perhaps better than anyone on the team.
The 20-year-old forward spent his high school years just a stone’s throw from JELD-WEN Field, starring at Jefferson High School after fleeing his native Congo.
And Mwanga lived up to the term “hometown hero” Tuesday night when he scored his first goal for the Timbers in their 2-1 win over San Jose following his arrival earlier in June from Philadelphia.
“It’s one of the best feelings ever, seeing all the fans jumping up and down and chanting,” Mwanga said. “It just feels great. Just being able to do it in front of the fans, you really feel a part of something. Seeing how the people support you it really gives you motivation to keep working harder and harder to make those people proud.”
GOAL: Mwanga finishes off counter
To top it off, Mwanga’s goal in the 29th minute was a thing of beauty – a calmly hit strike that came on the end of a perfectly executed counter attack – a goal that spurred a win against the team with the best record in MLS.
After San Jose were stripped of possession on the right side, midfielder Franck Songo’o played a give-and-go with Eric Alexander. Songo’o found himself streaking forward with space, before crossing the ball to Mwanga in the box. Mwanga maneuvered around San Jose defender Steven Beitashour for the right-footed shot that beat goalkeeper David Bingham.
“I had to time my run perfectly to get there as the same time as the ball,” Mwanga said. “So the timing was perfect, and the pass was perfect as well.”
Timbers head coach John Spencer said Mwanga displayed the killer mentality that he’s been trying to instill since he joined the team.
“I said to Mwanga that you’ve got to have that ruthlessness in your makeup and not be looking to set someone up,” Spencer said. “When you get in the box, you’ve got to become a different animal. So to see him come across, his movement was excellent and it was a great, great finish. And who wouldn’t want to celebrate in front of the Timbers Army.”
Mwanga said repaying the team that showed the confidence to trade for him is rewarding, especially considering the team’s recent struggles. Portland were coming off a lackluster performance in a 3-0 loss Saturday against Colorado, just a week after beating rival Seattle in a signature 2-1 victory.
“Whenever you have a lot of people believing in you, I think it’s big motivation,” he said. “So stepping on the field in a game like this against a team like San Jose and being able to score and win the game is huge.”
It was also Mwanga’s first goal of the season, a good sign for a player looking to regain the form that made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft. Mwanga scored seven goals his rookie season with the Union and five last year.
“Whenever you score the first goal for your club or the first goal of the season it’s important to get that out of the way so you can focus on building on it,” he said. “It was big, especially in a game like this playing against one of the best teams in MLS. It’s big motivation and it’s really good for my confidence.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.