When Danny Mwanga joined the Timbers it felt like a homecoming for the young attacker. It was to Portland that the young Mwanga had relocated from war-torn Congo, and it was back there he went after early promise at Philadelphia had went frustratingly unrealized.
A former OSU player, there was a real sense of enthusiasm about Mwanga’s arrival but things haven’t worked out as anyone would’ve hoped. With 3 goals in 18 appearances, Mwanga simply wasn’t earning his high salary and the club had renegotiated the deal in December for, one would presume, a lower salary more commensurate with his standing as being in the second XI not the first.
A deal for Mwanga has probably been shopped around for some time, despite that renegotiation, and a 21 year old with 15 MLS goals to his name already was always likely to find someone out there willing to take a shot that Mwanga just needs a fresh start to become a regular goalscorer. Oscar Pareja, head coach of Colorado Rapids, is that someone.
Much of the offseason work from the front office this year has seen guys I like leaving the club, but with a clear sense that there was a renewed purpose to the club and this was simply an unavoidable part of that. I’d have liked to see Eric Alexander and Eric Brunner given a chance, and wouldn’t have minded keeping Franck Songo’o or Joe Bendik, but with each deal you can see the reasoning behind it and whether you get behind it depends on just how much trust you place in Caleb Porter and Gavin Wilkinson to do the job right.
When Bright Dike got injured, the Timbers lost their “Number Nine”: the guy that Kenny Cooper and Kris Boyd weren’t meant to be, but Dike had become to the extent that he was a bawhair from going to the Cup of Nations with Nigeria. Ryan Johnson has filled in there, and a hat-trick is a pretty decent audition, but i get the sense from what I hear and read about him that he’s better suited to playing as a wide attacker, allowing him to be more involved on both sides of play.
Whenever Mwanga has led the line on his own, I’ve been unconvinced that he has what it takes there. Bright Dike, for all his faults, is a presence and will let everyone know he’s there. Mwanga never really impressed on me that much, and drifted in and out of games. We can expect to see Trencito given time this year but what I think Porter has shown with the signing of Mikael Silvestre is that, especially when there is as much turmoil and change as there is at Portland, an “old head” on the pitch can help knit things together and fill the breach while the club settles.
That left Mwanga in a group that includes Kalif Alhassan, Ryan Johnson, Darlington Nagbe, Sal Zizzo to fight out for the two attacking midfield/wide attacker roles that weren’t already taken by Diego Valeri. When you’re paying the big money to Mwanga, you really don’t want him to be fourth or fifth in line for the gig when he’s, arguably, the least versatile of the group.
We’ve seen Alhassan and Zizzo being used, tested, in other roles, central midfield and right-back respectively. With a strict salary cap, and limit on roster numbers, versatility adds value. Nagbe’s covered almost every role in midfield and attack and Johnson has shown he can step in and be the lead striker, if needed.
That’s something we haven’t seen from Danny. Sure, there have been moments and I thought the Mwanga/Boyd partnership had promise, as seen in the 2-1 win against Sporting Kansas City, but John Spencer was soon-to-be gone and Boyd would become the league’s most expensive bench warmer for a couple of months.
The rumour (now confirmed) is that Frederic Piquionne is the man the Timbers want to come in and lend some experience and presence to the front line. Piquionne has never been a prolific scorer through-out his career in France and England, with a reputation as a frustrating finisher who doesn’t do the defensive side with any enthusiasm. What he does bring is pace, whatever remains in those 34 year old legs, an elegance to his play and an aerial presence up top. Given he’s not an out-and-out scorer, Piquionne would give Porter the option to deploy him as an attacking fulcrum that the three player behind him could off in almost the same way, though it’s perhaps not so flattering to say so, that Torres was used in front of Mata, Oscar and Hazard at Chelsea.
The move for Piquionne, as with Silvestre, couldn’t look more like short-term fixes if their contracts had been signed in disappearing ink but if they ease the club’s transition, and help develop some of the young talent they’ll be training alongside then they’ll be invaluable moves.
Though there was no future in Portland for Danny Mwanga, there’s clearly still talent in him. Since that early burst of form in his first year in Philadelphia, Mwanga has looked like he just doesn’t fit in but perhaps he’ll find a home among the clouds in Colorado.