Within a year’s time, Union rookie Danny Mwanga went from playing against college kids to playing Manchester United, the most famous soccer club in the world. The number one overall draft pick has lived up to every bit of his enormous hype so far this season, and he more than held his own Wednesday night in a hard fought 1-0 loss to the storied EPL side.
“It was definitely a great experience,” said Mwanga after the friendly. “It’s just that once you step on the field you know that those guys are experienced. They have a lot of experience and they’re really good players, so that kind of tells you that you have to try to do everything the right way. It was definitely a good experience for all of us.”
Especially in the first half, when the Union had their starters on the pitch, Philadelphia controlled the tempo of the match and proved far more difficult to contend with than the visitors expected. Even still, Mwanga was understandably impressed with United’s pace and physicality.
“They’re definitely big and physical, but the main point that I saw is that they’re very organized, they’re very sharp on the ball and they’re really smart,” he said. “You know, their passes, where they want to put the ball, everything was so sharp. They’ll make a mistake and their reaction will happen right away and then they’ll clean up the mistake in a second. It was definitely one of the points that I was pretty amazed by.”
Amazed, maybe. But certainly not overwhelmed, which says a lot when you're talking about a club like Manchester United. Mwanga and the Union showed their class throughout the friendly, and it was clear that United felt fortunate to narrowly escape with a victory.
“I think we did alright,” said United ‘keeper Edwin van der Sar, who was inactive for the match. “I think they (Union) got in the game a little bit and to be fair they played with a lot of energy and spirits and it surprised us a little bit, and they had some good chances also in the first half where they could have scored. Even to the end to the last minute (the Union had chances), so it was a good game for us.”
While the Union won’t be fully satisfied with the result, it was an impressive showing from the home side. For Mwanga, it was yet another opportunity for growth.
“I think (playing so well at such a young age) gives you motivation, you know,” said the 19-year-old. “There are a lot of people counting on you even if you’re still young, but once you step on the field people don’t really care about how old you are, or how short or how big you are.
“That kind of tells you that you still have to work hard and there are a lot of people expecting you do well. So you just have to go out there and make sure you play the best soccer you can. I think it’s a challenge, but at the same time I think it adds motivation because it’s not impossible. I have great people around me to help me be where I want to be, so it’s a good thing for me.”
It’s a good thing for the Union, too, that Mwanga is continuing to blossom in his rookie season. The Congolese striker was dangerous against Manchester United on Wednesday, just further proof that he’ll continue to be a force in MLS the rest of this season and beyond.