CHESTER, Pa. – When Philadelphia Union leading scorer Danny Mwanga wasn’t in the starting lineup for the club’s second straight game, a few eyebrows were raised. There was even more surprise when Mwanga didn't even make the bench for Wednesday’s game against Sporting Kansas City at PPL Park.
It wasn’t until after the game ended in a disappointing scoreless draw for Philly that Mwanga revealed he was sidelined because of a minor right knee bruise he suffered during Saturday’s contest in Vancouver.
“It’s nothing really big, but the trainer was trying to be safe with it and try not to risk it until I’m back to 100 percent,” Mwanga told MLSsoccer.com. “I’m hoping to recover well [Thursday] and Friday and be ready to go Saturday.”
The Union play host to Chivas USA on Saturday night (8:00 pm ET, MatchDay Live) at PPL Park.
Union manager Peter Nowak gave a similar assessment in his postgame press conference on Wednesday, telling reporters there was “some limitation with his movement,” which is why Mwanga was given the night off.
Even without his leading scorer at his disposal, however, Nowak still managed to piece together an offensive lineup by starting Carlos Ruiz and Jack McInerney up top and dropping strikers Sébastien Le Toux and Veljko Paunović back into the midfield.
“We have enough people to shuffle the deck and make sure that another [player] will have a chance,” Nowak said.
Leaving Mwanga out of the lineup to heal has benefitted the Union once before. Rather than risk further injury, the striker sat out a game with a left hamstring strain last month against Chicago and responded the next week in Toronto by scoring a pair of goals.
Still, many Union fans would argue the second-year rising star doesn’t play enough even when healthy. Mwanga has started only seven of the club’s 15 games this season, and despite leading the team in goals with four, Mwanga ranks 11th in minutes played with a modest 746.
“I mean, it’s been happening since the beginning of the season, so it’s something I’ve been dealing with,” Mwanga said. “Every time you go into a game, you expect a different lineup. I’m just trying to prepare myself for it.”
For Mwanga, the top overall pick in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft out of Oregon State, getting consistent starts may only get harder now that Ruiz is back from the Gold Cup and Paunović, who was signed last week, is working his way into the rotation.
Luckily, the youngster has experience being shuffled in and out of the starting 11.
“Obviously as a player you want to start every game,” Mwanga said. “But at the same time, if you’re put in a position where you don’t start, you’ve just got to change your mindset to be that player coming off the bench, to bring that energy.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.