Danny Mwanga

MLS Insider: Danny Mwanga gains citizenship (Video)

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Those who watched last night’s edition of the wonderful series, MLS Insider, were shown an inside look at a great American story, that of Michael Bradley.

But the audience also was blessed with the story of yet another American, that of recently naturalized Danny Mwanga.

The Colorado Rapids forward discussed his childhood growing up in Central Africa and the incredible pressures his family dealt with while living in a country stuck in civil war.

For whoever missed it, this one is a phenomenal story and a must-watch. Enjoy.

Jack McInerney, Danny Mwanga, Tony Tchani … and perfect hindsight on the 2010 MLS Draft

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It’s Draft Day in America – NFL draft day, that is. But let’s not allow pro football to have all the fun.

We all know that drafting is a highly imperfect exercise, a multi-layered brew with lots of ingredients, attached to the all vagaries of scouting subjectivity and burdened with the fickle fates of luck.

That said, it’s always fair to go back and look at MLS drafts (all college-centered drafts, really). And when I say “look at,” what I really mean is “pick those bad boys apart like a Thanksgiving turkey.”

Here’s one bit of MLS draft day hindsight that is landing with a quite a thud at the moment:

So much of the 2010 pre-draft chatter was about Danny Mwanga and Tony Tchani. They were “impact” players, and not far behind in the “impact” zone was Teal Bunbury, highly athletic and skillful, as we know. Ike Opara was a “special” player, too, with several clubs desperate to grab the rangy center back.

Fair to say that Mwanga and Tchani have had as many “downs” as “ups” in their early MLS days. By Mwanga’s third pro season (2013) he was barely a part-time starter; the mercurial striker is already at his third MLS address

Tchani isn’t a bad player, but he’s hardly an “impact” man, now at his third MLS address as well. His fourth MLS season finds Tchani as a Columbus Crew backup. Eric Alexander and Ben Zemanski, selected 44th and 47th that day, have more MLS starts than either of those first two, far-more-ballyhooed selections.

Bunbury is coming off a big injury, but had seemed to arrive at a career sticking point in Kansas City. Opara, dragged down by injury, in fairness, just hasn’t risen the way most thought.

All of this is getting here …

Jack McInerney. The Philadelphia Union striker’s selection that day by the Philadelphia Union at No. 7 overall caused a lot of smart draft watchers to turn their heads and gaze curiously the way my dog does when he can’t understand what I want.

(MORE: McInerney is PST’s Major League Soccer Player of the Week)

It looks today like “Jack Mac” will be the best of the 2010 MLS Draft lot.

Major League Soccer’s current leading scorer was just 17, clearly a project when picked that day. Did New York, Kansas City, San Jose and Dallas, all of whom passed on “Jack Mac” err that cold January day in Pennsylvania? Not necessarily. As he was a “project,” perhaps they had more immediate needs.

source: Getty Images

This was a very Philly-centric draft, not only held in the city of Brotherly Love; the Union owned three of the first seven picks. So they had more latitude to take a “project,” along with Mwanga and Amobi Okugo (pictured, on the left), who is certainly proving to be an outstanding young talent.

Still, McInerney’s selection registered high on the shock meter that day, even among members of the chattering class that follow these things quite closely.

So what’s the point? That MLS drafts in particular are far more art than science. That more goes into the soup than most of us realize.

Draft analysis, before, during and after, should always be consumed at a distance.  The next “Jack Mac” surprise is out there. So is the next Mwanga.

Portland Timbers sign English league veteran Frédéric Piquionne

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Everyone around Portland knew what the Danny Mwanga trade on Thursday meant – well, besides the rather quick end to the locally grown forward’s time at Jeld-Wen Field, a the former Oregon State and Portland area high school star struggled to fit in Caleb Porter’s system. It meant a new striker was on the way.

Now they know the name: it’s Frédéric Piquionne, a well-traveled 34-year-old who has spent a career at good-not-great sides of Europe.

(MORE: PST’s team preview of the Portland Timbers)

Piquionne looks like a good fit to play alongside Jamaican international target forward Ryan Johnson for Porter.

The full release with more details on Piquionne, who had one French national team appearance, are here on the Timbers full release.

Danny Mwanga moves to Colorado, Portland set to announce new forward

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With Edson Buddle on the shelf for a few more weeks and possibly more, the Colorado Rapids look to be getting forward Danny Mwanga from the Portland Timbers for a first round pick in the 2015 draft.

The Rapids would be Mwanga’s third team. The Philadelphia Union took the Zaire-born talent who moved to the United States in 2006 with the first pick in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft. He scored 12 goals in 61 games for the club before getting traded to Rose City in the middle of last season. He made 18 appearances, netting three goals, during the disappointing campaign in his adopted hometown.

It’s possible that the move could help the forward find his form. He has struggled to figure out a place in Philly and Portland, needing the ball to create and not getting it enough. That said, Mwanga still has the pace and skill to succeed and more in the Rockies. Buddle’s absence, combined with the Rapids’ overhaul, will mean there is a place for the forward who is still only 21. The question is can he take advantage? (It’s not a great sign that the Union and the Timbers have already given up on him…)

Speaking of Caleb Porter and Gavin Wilkinson — we were, weren’t we? — rumors are flying that they plan to announce the signing of forward Frederic Piquionne, who is perhaps best known for scoring the 10,000 goal in Premier League history when he was with West Ham. He’s an interesting acquisition, a player with plenty of talent but one who is getting up in years. How do we think his 34-year-old knees and joints will fare on the artificial turf at JELD-WEN? We shall see. We shall see.

MLS Draft warnings, caveats and context: Looking at those 2010 top selections

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Denizens of the American sports scene recognize the imprecise nature of drafting college talent. Clearly it’s more art than science – otherwise, we would not have the notorious Jordan Oversight to consider:

Michael Jordan was selected No. 3 in the 1984 draft, but went on to more or less rule the kingdom with Chicago, claiming six NBA championships and 10 scoring titles as perhaps the game’s all-time all-timer. Ahem … No. 3.

So if elements as studied, filtered and fretted over as the NBA draft or the NFL draft cannot be folded into something more predictable, does the lesser known world of domestic soccer draft eligibles really stand a chance?

We don’t have to go much further than 2010, exactly three years ago, to see the imperfection at work. (Today is the exact anniversary of the 2010 MLS draft, so it seemed handy to start here.)

The top three picks were Danny Mwanga (pictured),Tony Tchani and Ike Opara. If you built a team around those three today – a forward, a midfielder and a defender now ostensibly be growing into their veteran leadership years – you might have something that looked like Toronto FC last year.

Note, if you will, that Toronto FC is picking first in 2013. There’s a reason: TFC was awful in 2012.

This is not to pick on Mwanga, Tchani and Opara, each of whom has struggled for reasons not entirely of their own creation. None of them are bad players – but they are walking, talking illustrations of the difficulty inherent in this process. Because they simply have not been what we might have reasonably expected of the top draft trio; shouldn’t one of the top three draft picks be strutting into star territory?

Rather, the trio’s combined average starts over three MLS seasons stands at an underwhelming 12.

Tchani launched his pro career in New York before moving to Toronto and then Columbus; all totaled he has 45 starts in three seasons.

New York was a tough place to start, as then-manager Hans Backe quickly assessed that products of the American system “are just missing something,” he once told me, unable to place exactly what, but probably referring to that extra little sixth sense of the game. It is probably the same something that Jurgen Klinsmann famously assessed was missing when Ghana dismissed the United States from World Cup 2010.

(MORE: a quickie MLS draft primer)

Backe once, somewhat infamously, I suppose, imposed a temporary rule in practice demanding that Tchani passed balls forward rather than backward or laterally. Clearly, the manager was something this side of impressed.

Tchani was traded to Toronto, where almost no one succeeds. Since then he’s moved to Columbus, where the central midfielder is a polarizing figure for fans around Crew Stadium. Again, he’s not a bad player – he’s just not storming the castles of success, either.

Opara has started even few games over three years (22), although some of that is down to injury misfortune. Either way, San Jose just let him go, and Opara – once seen as a shoe-in as the next great U.S. center back – now hopes to provide depth along Sporting Kansas City’s back line.

The circumstances around Mwanga, who has 42 starts, are even more muddy and tangled.  He was the Union’s original draft pick, taken No. 1 by the expansion club that day in Philadelphia – coincidentally, the draft was held right there in Philly. And he looked like a “can’t miss” type.

Well, he missed. Or the system missed. Or his deteriorating relationship with former Union manager Peter Nowak missed. Or something.

Bottom line here:  when a “can’t miss” No. 1 overall draft pick moves to Portland for Jorge Perlaza and allocation money, something has gone badly wrong.

Or, maybe we just say it again: it’s all more art than science.

By the way, the Nos. 4 and 5 draft picks that day in 2010, Teal Bunbury and Zach Loyd, have combined for seven full international appearances. That’s seven more than the combined number for the three men chosen above them with far greater acclaim on draft day exactly three years ago.