Real Salt Lake’s youth program has arrived. While it’s not yet a full Academy system like envisioned, the program is starting to produce some quality players. In fact, there have been whispers about two of the players as prospective Generation Adidas players. I’m not so sure either are in the running for that designation, but both have promising futures.
He’s young – just 18. A boy really. Playing, learning, studying, and working hard in a collegiate setting as a sophomore at Oregon State University. He may be getting ready to make the leap, into a man’s world: Major League Soccer.
Danny Mwanga is not really a product of the RSL youth system, but does have that connection based on playing with the RSL U-17 team in Spain this past summer. Since then he has really started to shine as an underclassman at OSU. And he has had quite a story getting to this point. You can read my interview with Mwanga here.
Mwanga hasn’t officially made a decision to leave school, but sounds like he’s leaning that way,
“This season was basically a sign that I probably should think of moving on and going to the next level. I’ve always had that in mind, but at the same time I want to keep all my options open. I’m definitely looking at moving on to the next level which is professional level. I’ll pretty much say that I’m still thinking about it. I just got done with my fall term and I know that the MLS draft and Combine are coming pretty soon, so it’s something that I need to really make the decision in the next maybe couple of weeks or maybe couple of days.”
According to Greg Maas, State Technical Director with the Utah Youth Soccer Association and Mwanga’s Coach with the RSL U-17 team this summer in Spain, it’s not at all a surprise that he’s making the leap to the professional ranks.
“I knew he was going to come out after his sophomore year,” said Maas.
After all Mwanga followed up his 2008 PAC-10 Freshman of the Year campaign with the 2009 PAC-10 Player of the Year award. The only question is whether he’ll land with MLS or somewhere in Europe.
In the mind of Maas, Mwanga has separated himself from many of the other players in the college game.
“He’s a professional player playing youth sports right now.”
Mwanga apparently doesn’t have an agent and is relying heavily on his club coach Monty Hawkins from the Westside Metro’s (Portland area).
“I have my club coach Monty – he’s basically the guy that I talk to before I make any decision. I’ll say he’s basically like my father.”
Mwanga had options for a couple of trials in France during the month of December, but couldn’t work them in with his busy schedule with finals at Oregon State: One was with a first division team, and the other was with Strasbourg (2nd division).
As far as MLS, Mwanga has not been approached yet by the league. Because he is an underclassman he can’t be approached until he declares his intentions to turn pro. However, he’s read some of the early draft speculation out in cyberspace, and believes there is some interest out there.
So what kind of player is Mwanga? What does he bring to the table? How can he help an MLS team?
Mwanga has the skills of a true #10, although he can play “up top”. He is very skillful with the ball. He’s a very good passer and a strong finisher, but one of the most impressive characteristics is his footwork according to Maas. In addition, he is reportedly a humble person and a very good teammate.
“Every coach has their own opinion, but me as a player I like being underneath the striker, almost as a second forward but I like being the guy that picks up the ball right between the midfield and the back four.”
“I can score, and I’m a pretty good dribbler with the ball at my feet. I’m pretty technical, and I can pass, too.”
If there is a potential knock on his game, it’s that he needs to improve his aerial game. He has good size, but this hasn’t been a strong facet of his game.
“I should get better at having my back to the goal. You have to be able to hold the ball.”
I have a feeling that Mwanga will get the chance to “hold the ball” professionally some day soon. Real soon.
Traditionally, I’m told, there is one Generation Adidas goalkeeper each year. Over the past couple of weeks, word on the street has been that two of the leading candidates for the 2010 crop are Zac MacMath and Michael Chesler. MacMath is a Sophomore at Maryland and comes from the vaunted Bradenton Academy.
Chesler played High School soccer at Mountain View High School (Utah). He also played on the RSL U-17 team, and with the Ogden Outlaws PDL team. Chesler is a Sophomore at High Point University (North Carolina) where he registered a team record 5 shutouts this season. He feels that this has been a great school for him,
“I found a great spot (at High Point). I was able to come in and earn a starting spot my freshman year, and I was actually the captain of my team as a sophomore.”
However, Chesler has no plans of leaving school early and turning pro at this point. In fact, he was surprised by these rumors as he hasn’t been contacted by any MLS teams. Chesler actually believes he can use another year in school,
“I feel like I wouldn’t be able to start. It would take some time. I could probably use another year of experience, but if the opportunity came it would be kind of hard to pass up.”
According to Coach Maas, Chesler has a remarkable story of getting to where he is at. For three years running Chesler showed up to compete for Maas’ State ODP team, and was turned away each time. As Coach Maas put it, “he wasn’t just a small goalkeeper, he was undersized.”
But Chesler had something that most of the other players didn’t have: a dogged determination, and tremendous desire. He came out every year, and each year he was better than the year before. When he was turned away, he always found out what he needed to work on and took that to heart.
Despite numerous rejections he stuck with it. And then when he was about 15 or 16 something important happened for Chesler…he hit a growth spurt. He made the ODP ‘89 team his last two years and in the final year became the starting keeper, unseating a keeper who had owned the spot for a couple of years.
In addition to Coach Maas (a goalkeeper by background), Chesler has trained with some of the best including two coaches who have been affiliated with the US youth national teams: Peter Mellor and Tim Mulqueen.
“Peter (Mellor) trained with me 4 or 5 times when he was here with Real. I actually loved Peter a lot – he was probably one of my best coaches – I learned a ton from him. I also learned a lot when I trained with Tim Mulqueen for a week.”
Chesler is a tremendous striker of the ball, and therefore has great distribution ability. More importantly, he’s a player that doesn’t get rattled, even after giving up a goal.
Chesler shares his views on some of his additional strengths and weaknesses:
“I’m a pretty good shot-blocker, and I would say I’m a good communicator.”
“I think crosses are a big weakness for me. I’m good in the air, but my decision-making on them is not the best.”
It’s likely that Chesler will stay another year at High Point, but look for him in MLS some day soon.