Mwanga Shrugs Off Top Rookie Talk

Being drafted No. 1 overall in any sport always brings lots of pressure to perform.

Any team would love to sign the top pick because it knows the potential of the top player in the college pool and what he can bring to a team.

For the No. 1 overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft this year, Philadelphia Union forward Danny Mwanga, things moved a bit more slowly than he would have hoped. That didn’t last long, though, as after scoring his first professional goal against FC Dallas in May, the 18-year-old has been on a tear, netting another four.

He’s now being considered a frontrunner for this year’s Rookie of the Year Award, something he’d prefer waited a bit longer.

“The season isn’t over yet,” said Mwanga on Wednesday. “Right now, it’s a motivation that shows you’re going in the right direction, but at the same time, there are other rookies that are doing well. That kind of pushes you to keep working harder and harder, too, and to do better than I have been doing the last five or six games.

"At the end, whatever happens, happens—but I’m just excited to be here, and I want to help my team and hopefully achieve big goals as a team, which I think is the most important thing right now.”

Mwanga has done plenty to help his team in recent games. Late goals against FCD, Houston Dynamo and the Seattle Sounders secured results for Philadelphia, something that Mwanga sees as the most important benefit from his scoring.

Though he's aware of his improvement on the field, he also pointed out that the entire team has gotten better as the campaign progressed.

“It isn’t just me,” Mwanga said. “As a team, in the beginning, we had a couple things we needed to correct. So now we are playing very well as a team, better than at the beginning of the season.

"That has helped me personally. After I got my first goal, it kind of gave me extra motivation to work harder and play even harder in the games to try and get more goals to help my team.”

Union coach John Hackworth realized the change in Mwanga after his first goal and noticed an improvement in the rookie's game.

“Any time you have young players, things are very different," Hackworth said. "He realized [after the goal against FC Dallas], that 'These guys believe in me, have faith in me and that I’m actually pretty good.' All of a sudden, that next week, the way he trained, you could really see the confidence coming out. That’s part of the formula or recipe about how an individual grows and really starts to learn and ply their trade at a very high level. We’re seeing that now with Danny.”

For Mwanga though, he isn’t concerned with the individual praise or accolades, as he wants to ensure he does everything he can do to get his team in a good position to make the postseason this year.

“We’re not done yet,” Mwanga said. “We have a very good chance to do very well and to be one of the top teams in the East and hopefully make it to the playoffs. Right now, we’ve kind of forgotten about the beginning of the season and we’re focusing on the rest of the games and we’re trying to take them one at a time.”