Mwanga and Okugo welcome challenge of next

Union rookies preparing for tough road in MLS

They are a pair of 18-year-olds on the same
journey.

They have the same goals,
the same vision, the same dreams.

Danny
Mwanga and Amobi Okugo were selected first and sixth overall,
respectively, in January’s Major League Soccer SuperDraft. As far as
building blocks go, these two should be cornerstones of the foundation
Philadelphia Union continues to build.

Since the SuperDraft, their lives have been a blur –
training sessions locally, in chilly Greensboro, N.C., and on to
Guadalajara, Mexico and then eventually Tampa before opening the regular
season March 25 at Seattle.

It has
already been an extraordinary ride for the matched pair of gifted young
athletes.

What have they learned
thus far?

“Every day at practice,
I’m getting a chance to go after some of the best defenders in the
league, like Danny Califf and Shavar (Thomas),” said Mwanga, who starred
at forward for Oregon State. “Playing around those guys is showing me
how to be more physical. Since I got here, I’ve learned more about my
game and how to play it quicker. My fitness level is also much better
than it was at the college level. Every day here is a chance to get
better and better.”

Okugo echoed
similar thoughts.

“Since I arrived
to training camp, I’ve learned a lot of new things,” Okugo said. “You
have to be consistent and able to adjust, since the game is all about
transition. The professional game is a lot faster than college. The
older players and the coaches are great examples for us, and we learn
daily from all they have to offer. I’m just really happy to be a part of
this."

The MLS season will be a
much different experience than playing an NCAA schedule.

The players say they are preparing for the difficult
transition.

“The MLS season is a
long one,” said Mwanga. “You play a lot of really good games, at the
professional level, so it will definitely be more physical, plus the
speed of the game is faster. I’m hoping to have adjusted enough by the
time the season starts. It’s going to be a lot faster and more physical
compared to college soccer, so we need to work hard every day to make
sure we are at that level.”

Okugo, a
standout midfielder at UCLA, added: “The MLS season is much longer than
college, so that alone is going to be different. Then the importance of
games and the amount of them added to the level of play are features
that are definitely different from college. As a rookie, those are
factors that we need to work on daily, but I’m really eager to learn and
excited for the upcoming professional season."

Between now and March 25 when Philadelphia Union takes
the field for First Kick against Seattle Sounders FC, the players won’t
have much down time. But that’s fine with them.

“It’s a little bit hard because it’s different compared
to the college season, which is very short,” Mwanga said. “This is a
very long preseason, but we are trying to stay focused all the way
through. We know this is the only time we have to get ready for the
season, so we all are trying to stick together. The young guys are
trying to look at the older guys, so they can learn from experience and
from what those guys have done before to get through this.”

Okugo believes that having balance is vital to
accomplish on-field goals.

“During
the off time, we either just rest or hang out with the team by playing
cards, and just trying to get our minds away from soccer to give
ourselves a break,” he said. “We just try to rest as much as possible so
when we get on the field, we focus and put all of our energy into the
game.”