When Danny Mwanga was traded to the Portland Timbers from the Philadelphia Union in June, the Congolese striker out of Jefferson High was excited to come back to his home town and be close to his family. But, most of all, Mwanga was excited to see more playing time.
The No. 1 draft pick in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft struggled to earn playing time during his two-plus seasons in Philly. Coming to Portland, things were supposed to be different.
However, since being acquired on June 6 by the Timbers, the 6-2, 175-pounder has played in 17 matches, with only six starts.
Being in Portland is good, Mwanga says. My family is here, I grew up here, Im playing for my hometown team. But, at the same time, my job is to play. When youre not playing much, its frustrating.
"Im not here just to be in Portland. I came here to play. I want to play. Thats my job, and thats the number one thing that Im here for. Not being able to play, it is frustrating.
Mwanga says that being a No. 1 draft pick does not make the lack of playing time easier or harder to swallow.
It doesnt matter if youre the No. 1 draft pick or not, he says. Your objective is to play. And when its not happening, it is frustrating. I dont think being drafted No. 1 makes it worse for me.
"As a player, you want to be on the field, you want to contribute. When it doesnt happen, sometimes you get frustrated, but at the same time youve just got to try to keep your head up and keep trying to work hard.
Mwanga, who has scored three goals in a Timbers uniform going into the club's MLS season finale at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at home versus the San Jose Earthquakes, has talked to the coaching staff about his lack of playing time. The answers, he says, speak more to the style that Portland wants to play than to his ability.
I talk to the assistant coaches and I talk to the coaching staff, Mwanga says. Its just the way were playing right now; thats the system we want to play. Other than that, I dont really have any reasons why. But, as a player, you just have to be there, be ready whenever you get in and just try to help the team.
Mwanga, 21, plans to use the offseason to make himself ready to be utilized in 2013.
I have to try to stay fit and come out next year and be healthy and sharp and ready to go, he says. Theres not any other team where I want to be (with). I want to be here next year. The season is almost over. We have a new coach (Akron's Caleb Porter) coming next year. I think everybody is going to get an opportunity.