CHESTER, Pa. – At the 2010 MLS SuperDraft, Danny Mwanga was the near consensus pick to be selected No. 1 overall by the Philadelphia Union.
A hot prospect out of Oregon State, the rangy forward was indeed taken with the first pick and went on to have an excellent first season with the expansion Union, scoring an impressive seven goals and doling out four assists.
WATCH: Bio Bites - Danny Mwanga
With the season now over, Mwanga is again being touted for a prestigious tag: MLS Rookie of the Year.
“It’s a great honor to be in the running for Rookie of the Year and would be a great honor to win the award,” Mwanga said Wednesday, hours before he was officially announced as a finalist. “When people tell me that I should win, it just tells me that I’ve done a really good job. But at the same time, I still need to improve.”
But although Mwanga was the top pick back in January, he wasn’t always the first name on the list for ROY.
The Congolese forward started out his season slowly, going scoreless in the team’s first six matches. But Mwanga finally found his form in May after volleying in a stoppage-time equalizer against FC Dallas and went on a tear.
Part of the reason is that Union Manager Peter Nowak wanted to bring the 19-year-old along slowly so his transition into the league would be a smooth one. Looking back, Mwanga realizes that his patience was rewarded.
“As a player, you always want to play,” said Mwanga of the early part of the year. “At the same time, you have to understand that you have to make some adjustments to get used to this level. It was a little bit frustrating for me, but I knew my time would eventually come.”
Scoring in bunches and proving a handful for any defender he faced this season, Mwanga has earned his spot as a ROY finalist with Tim Ream of the New York Red Bulls and Andy Najar of D.C. United.
He may be the favorite, but Mwanga tries not to worry too much about who will win the award. Instead, he’s focused on improving himself as a player going into his second season.
“I try not to think much about [the award],” he said. “I just want to play my game and bring my best. At the end of it, people are just going to vote and if it happens that I’m going to get Rookie of the Year, then I get it. If not, [I will] just be happy with the performances from this year and try and get better for next year.”
Shane Evans covers the Philadelphia Union for MLSsoccer.com. You can reach him for comments on his Twitter account @shanEvans.