Photo: Paul Rudderow
Danny Mwanga is gone.
What he was:
- The Union’s number one overall pick in 2010
- Extremely talented
- Twenty years old
- A second choice striker.
Of those details, two are facts, one is subjective, and one can be inferred from your collection of lineup cards (though not from the Union’s promotional materials).
Mwanga was the first Union star. Before Le Toux’s hat trick and Califf’s mohawk, before Sheanon showing up out of nowhere and Marfan’s Madrid chip, Danny Mwanga was the name Philly fans knew and loved.
Now he’s just the latest sign that something is very wrong with Philadelphia Union.
Taken alone, trading Mwanga would seem rash. He is just short of his 21st birthday and has not been given a consistent role to play since late in the 2010 season. In each year since his first, Mwanga sat and watched as the Union offense was built around the blunt spearheads of Carlos Ruiz and Lionard Pajoy.
Combined, Ruiz and Pajoy have scored a goal every 235 minutes they were on the field.
Mwanga scored a goal every 288 minutes. And he did a lot of his damage as a sub, which ain’t easy.
After he was dealt yesterday, the former Oregon State player told the Philadelphia Daily News’ Kerith Gabriel, “I don’t know why I didn’t get playing time this season. I don’t know why that decision was made and I don’t really have an answer.”
Looking for answers
There is an answer, but there is no good answer.
Theories about money, about effort, and about getting players who can help the club now abound, but none of them fit the larger narrative snaking its way around Philadelphia Union so tightly that it’s choking their 2012 season.
It’s the story of a coach at odds with his players and the on-field performances that tumble out of an unsettled locker room.
It could have been the angry fairy tale of a player scorned when Sebastien Le Toux told it. It might have been a tall tale from a guy unwilling to admit a bum knee had made him ineffective when Danny Califf told it. And it could be the whiny story of a young kid who didn’t want to earn his minutes on the practice field when Danny Mwanga tells it.
But when all three stories converge on a coach who apparently doesn’t effectively communicate with marquee players, an atmosphere of confidence-sapping uncertainty, and the relief of being somewhere else… well, you’re either fielding a team from the paranoid wing of the asylum, or you have a systemic problem within the organization.
So bearing in mind that only one shoe truly fits, let’s take a closer look at what this trade might have been before deciding what it was.
A salary dump
Yes, but not a necessary one. Allocation money can be used to pay down salaries, and the Union probably have a ton of it, although how much is largely a matter of speculation because MLS keeps that information secret. Plus, if the team wanted to bring in a proven veteran goalscorer mid-season (leaving aside their choice in that department in the off-season), they know they have to get it right. They have a stable of young strikers who could use some time on the pitch while the team is rebuilding.
So, a chance to acquire the “right” player.
Is Jorge Perlaza that sure thing the Union need? John Spencer can answer this one.
Effort in practice
There have been rumors that Danny Mwanga wasn’t a hard worker in practice. The question of where such a rumor came from is asked a lot less than, “Does it fit the narrative?” So even if a narrative has zero evidence to support it, a rumor wiggles in and becomes accepted.
I don’t know if Danny Mwanga gave his all in practice, but if he didn’t, it still doesn’t mean he should be shipped across the country.
A talented young player who isn’t getting time being ornery? Not quite a revelation in the sports world, if it is true. In fact, it describes exactly the type of situation that you’d expect a manager with a history of working with youth teams to thrive in. It also echoes the relationship between a certain number one pick and his head coach when both wore the colors of the team that the Union sent packing on Tuesday night.
The hype and the reality
Some have already argued that Mwanga never lived up to his potential.
Feel free to laugh at these people.
Then ask them what they were doing at age 20. Had they mastered their craft yet? Sure, this is a snarky response, but the point stands that Danny Mwanga is a 20 year old striker whose numbers match up well against other MLS draft picks.
Mwanga was drafted in 2010 as an 18-year-old. Including the 2009, 2010 and 2011 drafts, only four drafted players have a better minutes per goal average than the Congolese striker’s rate of one goal per 288 minutes: Teal Bunbury of high flying KC at 222 mins/goal, Will Bruin of Eastern Conference champion Houston at 254 mins/goal, David Estrada of Seattle at 237 mins/goal, and some kid named McInerney at 250 mins/goal.
(Funny aside here: David Estrada was drafted in 2010 as a 21 year old. He hardly played for his first two seasons before breaking out in 2012 at age 24. How many Seattle fans would have taken an Estrada for Perlaza deal this past off-season?)
That old talkin’ and walkin’ thing
It comes down to this: The Philadelphia Union talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. The talk is youth, development, patience, and, well, unity.
The walk is drafting Amobi Okugo, then bringing in a guy that plays his position in two successive seasons.
The walk is drafting Jack McInerney, then making him disappear for long periods of time, including US Open Cup games after he lights up a reserve match.
The walk is drafting Danny Mwanga, then bringing in veteran strikers to play his position in two successive seasons, then giving the kid the type of information and feedback that leads to exit quotes like, “When you are comfortable you are a better player and I am already comfortable here in Portland.”
The walk is trading away your leading scorer (only scorer, really) and trading him away in his prime.
The walk is using young players as peace offerings to the fans, as the team appeared to do when they announced the permanent signing of Roger Torres moments after the Le Toux trade became official.
The walk is saying your captain is hurt… and having your captain disagree with you.
The walk is saying the media and the fans shouldn’t ask what happened to last year’s starting center back.
The walk is trying to use a Rookie of the Year candidate midfielder to cover up the defensive holes that went ignored in the off-season.
The walk is players expressing confusion, irritation and finally relief when they leave.
The walk is acting like all of this is normal.
It is not.
Not just another trade
Danny Mwanga may turn out to be a bust. Jorge Perlaza might be dynamite. And some will crow, “See? Just another trade.”
But it wasn’t. It was the Union’s number one pick who, after a first season filled with promise, never got a real chance, even during the team’s struggles in the two seasons that followed.
It speaks volumes about the organization, and don’t think players across the league aren’t listening.
You should too.