Sunday, June 14, 2009

Insight into Danny Mwanga: RSL U-18 Striker

The RSL U-18 team that recently competed against some of the best clubs in the world in Spain had a couple of new additions from the team that won the MLS Cup last summer to earn a berth in the prestigious tournament. The most notable acquisition being Danny Mwanga from Oregon State who teamed up with James Rogers to form a speedy, athletic strike duo in the frontline.


Here is a brief background from Danny in his own words.

“I’m originally from the Congo. I moved to the USA in June 2006. I started playing soccer back home at a young age, like 4 or 5 years old. I came to the US and started to play in the Men’s League with Westside Metros. And later on I played in the U-16 team which is where I think Greg Maas, the coach from Real Salt Lake’s youth team first saw me play.”

Danny and his two sisters had stayed behind in the Congo when his mother came to the US in 2001. It wasn’t until 2006 that his mother was able to make arrangements and bring her family to the US. Despite the conditions that he escaped from, Mwanga picked up soccer almost immediately when he arrived, at first playing with other local immigrants from Africa in the park, and then later getting into some more organized play.


Mwanga was playing for the Westside Metros U-16 entry coached by former Portland Timbers assistant Cony Konstin when he was first noticed by Oregon State in 2006. They began recruiting him immediately. Mwanga was also recruited by numerous other schools, but had to wait as he was initially deemed academically ineligible due to the lack of records from his native Congo. For more about some of Mwanga’s hurdles in life, read this excellent article by Crystal G. Ofori on

In between initially being noticed and joining Oregon State, Mwanga played at Jefferson High School in Oregon where in 2007 as a sophomore he scored a remarkable 50+ goals in 9 games! 051309_OSU_500

“Yea that was my last year in high school. It was a good time.”

Eventually the transcript situation was sorted out, and Mwanga joined Oregon State last season where he was named PAC-10 Freshman of the Year after scoring 4 goals on 23 shots including a game winner. The award is one that current Real Salt Lake forward and former Oregon State player Robbie Findley won in 2003.


Danny was scheduled to play this summer with the Ogden Outlaws which have a PDL program that is being run partially with the overview of Real Salt Lake. However, that situation fell through.

“I was supposed to come down and play with the Outlaws, but I had some situation with my family that I had to stay up in Portland.”

Instead, Mwanga will be going to California with his club team for regionals and may have a chance to play with the Timbers PDL entry this summer. His return to Oregon State is a little but uncertain as he is weighing other options.

“I’m not quite sure, but for now that’s one of the options that I have. If I don’t have anything really big coming up, I’ll go back and play for Oregon State.”


RSL U-18 coach Greg Maas continued to follow Mwanga’s play at Oregon State and remained in contact with Oregon State head coach Dana Taylor.

“He gave me a call in April or beginning of May and explained to me about the tournament. It’s a really good experience and he wanted me to be a part of. And I thought that’s a really good opportunity for me and a chance to play at the highest level of soccer.”

So Mwanga agreed to go. He had to get a visa to travel because of his status as a Congo native, and fortunately this came through just before the team was set to leave.

Of course this was his first trip to Europe and Mwanga especially enjoyed the tour that the team took of Real Madrid’s stadium. They also were able to see an Atletico Madrid home game. However, the focus was clearly on the job at hand, which was competing in the tournament of youth clubs from around the world.

“I was really impressed by my teammates. We knew that we’d be playing against some of the best teams in the world. We knew that we all needed to step up and play well against those guys. We knew that the expectation was really high. We came out together as a team and stepped it up, and played well together against those guys.”


There was a lot of anticipation before that first match against Partizan Belgrade.

“It wasn’t about being nervous. For me it was more about excitement. I knew that was one of the best teams in Europe. I believe that they are ranked #2 for their age group. I was excited. I couldn’t wait to play against these guys and see where I am as a player.”

Mwanga felt that he and his teammates showed themselves well in the tournament. He felt that their team and several of the players in particular showed that they belonged in that elite group of players. Unfortunately in every match they were at a disadvantage as they played against other teams with greater resources, and who had been playing together for a significant amount of time.

In the second game against Espanyol, Mwanga felt that they should have gotten the win.

“We let them play the first half. We came in in the second half – me and James came in with fresh legs up top. We got some stuff sorted out. We fixed some stuff in the back. We got a lot of great things going up top, and we were up 2-1 at one point. I felt like we really should have beat Espanyol, and then we were really confident to win the next game.”

Unfortunately, RSL ended up with a draw against Espanyol, and ended up losing 1-0 in the final group match against Rayo Vallecano, resulting in their elimination.

“That was one of the best games, because we all knew that we had to win to advance. So we all came out as a team fighting real hard to get the win. And we played really well throughout that game, but it was hard because it was basically a home game for that team. But that didn’t slow us down at all. We fought real hard and were a little bit unlucky not to get the goal and then they scored close to the end. But I feel really proud of our guys, because I know that we tried really hard.”

It’s interesting to note that the two teams who advanced from their group (Rayo Vallecano and Partizan Belgrade) were eliminated by the two finalists in the tournament (Barcelona and Real Madrid) by identical scores 4-2. Real Madrid went on to win the tournament with a 2-1 victory in the final.


Mwanga reiterated that his teammates really stepped up in this tournament and performed well. He pointed out at least 3 teammates that appear to be very special players.

James Rogers: “I think they are all pretty good, especially James Rogers. He’s pretty young. He did a good job, and he didn’t worry about his age or his size.”

“I know what it’s like to play against guys that are 4 or 5 years older than me. That’s how I learned and got better with my game. From what I’ve seen from James, if he keeps playing like he has been playing, he’s going to be a really good player.”

Adrian Saldana: “Adrian – He’s a good player. I think he’s going to be a good player in college.”

Mike D’Arrigo: “Mike – I think he’s got national team experience. He did really, really well in that tournament.”

Mwanga mentioned that he had a special bond with Rogers, since the two had quite a bit in common. Both players came from Africa at a young age. Both were identified as top players from a young age, and both players are exciting forwards to watch. They spent some time sharing their experiences during their time in Spain.


While Mwanga isn’t sure where his future will take him, he knows what his goals are – to play professional soccer at some point. He’s really been working toward that goal since a very young age.

“Even when I was a little kid I always had a dream to play professional soccer. It doesn’t really matter where I play, but I want to play on that level.”

He also left open the possibility of RSL as a future employer. Mwanga indicated that he is friends with Alex Nimo, and he has also followed Robbie Findley’s career since Danny arrived shortly after Findley at Oregon State.

This tournament may prove dividends down the road, as numerous professional scouts were in attendance.

“(being scouted) was definitely a big motivation. You know that you are playing in one of the best tournaments in the world, and there are guys watching. That’s really good motivation, but you have to compete and show your best.”

Best of luck to Danny in his future endeavors. We'll make sure to keep our eye on him.