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Raves: Danny Mwanga

Editor’s note: Over the next few weeks, PSP contributors will be posting what we’re calling “Raves” about our favorite Philadelphia players. They need not be the team’s best players, but they’re guys we like. You hear plenty of rants when the Union losing. Here are the raves, continuing with a rave about Danny Mwanga by guest contributor Greg Orlandini, an editor at KYW Newsradio and co-host of KYW’s Philly Soccer Show with PSP editor Dan Walsh.

Mwanga charging forward. (Photo by Nicolae Stoian.)

One of the great things about being a sports fan is a chance to watch a player take his or her steps towards stardom. We in Philadelphia have been lucky recently, as the Phillies make their latest postseason run with a galaxy of stars, four of which (Howard, Hamels Rollins and Utley) came through the team’s farm system.

Philadelphia Union, the city’s newest team, has the potential to rival their brothers on the diamond with the young talent on display at PPL Park. And the one that may shine brighter than all the rest is Danny Mwanga.

Danny has all of the tools to be a great footballer. His strength and pace give him the ability to slide off of defenders, while he also possesses a high “soccer IQ” and a vision of the field well beyond his 19 years. He has proven to be a very good teammate, setting up fine on-field relationships with his fellow forwards Sebastian Le Toux and Alejandro Moreno. Danny surely has a flair for the dramatics, with his first league goal coming in the dying minutes against FC Dallas at the Linc, tying the game and rescuing a point for the home side and a last gasp winner in Houston to seal a 3-2 Union victory. And he can get fans to fly out of their seats, as he did with me when he appeared to pop out of a trap door behind the Real Salt Lake defense to score a gorgeous opening goal of the match.

It was during his interview with Dan Walsh and me on the KYW Philly Soccer Show that other things became immediately apparent. Danny has a steadiness to his voice, a thoughtful way in how he speaks about the game and intelligence about not only his sport but the world around him. These are likely born out of the fact that Danny Mwanga has lived a life of loss and upheaval that make things like soccer seem very trivial indeed.

Many who read this site and follow the Union know Danny’s background, but it bears some repeating. He lost his father at an early age through tragic circumstances during the civil war in his home nation of what is now the Congo. His mother fled to the USA without Danny and his sister, and he waited nearly 10 years to be reunited with her.  Once in the states, he became a first a high school and then college star in Oregon. In an article about Danny with the website America.gov, he says soccer was his way of getting over the language and cultural barriers he faced when he arrived in America.

The Mwanga-Le Toux partnership has produced some unforgettable moments. (Photo by Nicolae Stoian.)

After becoming PAC-10 Freshman of the year, Danny became the Union’s first every draft pick. And to hear him say it, the Union was the perfect fit. During his Philly Soccer Show interview, he told us how the team has, to their immense credit, created a structure for the younger players to thrive.

Watching Danny play, however, is bittersweet. Every goal, every great pass or run raises his profile that much more. There are no secrets in sports in the Internet age. Though injuries and the fact that MLS defenses are starting to key in on him have limited his goal output as the season comes winding down, there are no doubt teams taking note of the strong Congolese striker.

So with that understood, I say enjoy it while it lasts. Cheer his clever runs, enjoy the one-twos he plays with Le Toux and be in awe of the beauty of his goals. Because one day he may be doing it in the red of Arsenal, the white of Real Madrid or the blue and black of Inter Milan. Union fans can have the honor of saying we saw Danny Mwanga take his first steps to stardom.

Cover photo by Nicolae Stoian.