Porter calls ex-Jeff High star a €s'tweener€s'in a logjam up front

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: MEG WILLIAMS - Portland Timbers forward Danny Mwanga stares down an opponent during a match last summer.Portland Timbers coach Caleb Porter does not believe that being drafted No. 1 amounts to a whole hill of beans.

“I think No. 1 picks and the order that you get picked in is completely irrelevant,” Porter says. “I don’t think that plays into anything.

“I’ve seen some guys who were No. 1 picks and didn’t play at all. I’ve seen some guys who were fourth round who are starters in this league. I don’t put a whole lot of weight into where a guy gets picked.”

As a player, Porter was 26 spots away from being the No. 1 pick, having been taken with the 27th overall pick by the now-defunct San Jose Clash in the 1998 MLS college draft.

Striker Danny Mwanga, who is battling for a role and playing time with Porter’s new-look Timbers, may have more perspective on what being drafted No. 1 means.

“The number that you go in the draft, obviously that creates expectations,” Mwanga says.

Mwanga was taken No. 1 by the Philadelphia Union in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft after two dazzling seasons at Oregon State, where he won the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year Award and then the Pac-10 Player of the Year Award. Over two seasons at OSU, the former Jefferson High star scored 18 goals in 29 matches.

“Clearly in college, he was one of the best players and he was worthy of that No. 1 pick,” Porter says. “But he has to perform now. That was three years ago.”

Mwanga was drafted No. 1 the same year that Sam Bradford was the top pick in the NFL, John Wall was No. 1 in the NBA draft and Bryce Harper was No. 1 in Major League Baseball.

None of those three players has led his team to championships. But the major difference between them and Mwanga is that they have gotten the opportunity to play regularly whereas Mwanga has had difficulty earning playing time.

Mwanga started 17 games in 2010, 13 games in 2011 and only a combined 12 games in 2012 with the Union and the Timbers. During those three seasons, his goals have gone from seven in 2010 to five in 2011 to three in 2012.

Mwanga is playing the politically correct game, saying that playing time decisions lie solely with Porter. But it’s clear how desperately he wants to be out on the pitch.

“It gets in your head, it gets in your confidence,” Mwanga says about his limited playing time since joining MLS. “As a young player, you want to play. But, at the same time, Coach (Porter) just got here, it’s his first year with the team and he’s trying to figure out things.

“For me as a player, you obviously want to play, but at the same time (if I don’t play) I use it as motivation to come into practice. I know as long as I stay focused, come in and try hard in practice, I’m going to get my chance. And once I get that chance I’m going to make sure I make the most of it.”

The Timbers’ coaching staff is trying to figure out where he fits.

“Danny is still settling in,” Porter says. “We’re still trying to figure out his best position. He’s a bit of a ‘tweener’ position-wise. He’s probably best as an underneath striker in a two front. We’ve played him a bit wide in a three front, we’ve played him in the attacking mid in a 4-3-2-1, we’ve been playing him as the center striker in a three, we’ve played him in a two as well.

“We also have a very talented attacking group. There’s a lot of competition, and there’s a bit of a logjam up there. He’s fighting for time. He knows that. We’ve sat down with him and asked him to step up.”

Porter went into Wednesday’s preseason match against FC Dallas planning to start Mwanga in the No. 10 spot. He said Tuesday: “We’re optimistic that he’ll perform well and create some goals for us.”

The 6-2, 175-pound Mwanga relishes those chances to perform.

“Whether you go No. 1 or No. 10, it’s an opportunity to get in and play,” Mwanga says. “That’s what I’ve been given right now.”

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