Danny Mwanga hasn’t been back to the Democratic Republic of Congo since he was 15 years old, but a feeling of great pride still swelled inside the Philadelphia Union striker as he watched a team from his native country make history.
On Tuesday, the Congolese club TP Mazembe became the first African side to reach the Club World Cup final, beating Copa Libertadores champs Internacional of Brazil, 2-0.
“It’s definitely exciting,” said Mwanga, who scored seven goals for Philadelphia and was a Rookie of the Year finalist this past season. “To have a team from the country I was born in and grew up in – it’s making me proud. It’s making us all proud.”
Mwanga, who grew up in Congo before a civil war and the tragic death of his father forced his family to emigrate to the United States, never played too much club soccer as a kid. Because of all of the strife and turmoil surrounding him, he says he spent most of his childhood kicking a ball around on the streets with friends.
But as a 14-year-old, he did get the chance to train with a second-division professional team that his uncle, Jean-Claude Mwanga, coached. Going up against players as old as 25 tested his mettle and, he says, helped turn him into the fearless player that he is today.
“I was getting beat up in the beginning,” the Union striker said, “I realized that was going to help me.”
[inline_node:288353]Soon after Mwanga moved to Oregon, he quickly made a name for himself as one of the best high school and collegiate soccer players in the country. But he still makes sure to call his uncle often to talk about his native land. In fact, they just spoke this week to discuss the Crows’ historic run in the Club World Cup.
“He was very excited about it,” Mwanga said about his uncle. “This is a sign that maybe shows that there is a lot of young talent out there. Hopefully it will open the eyes of other people around the world to take a look at the young talent in Africa and help them find a professional career.”
TP Mazembe will look to take that final step to bring home a championship when they play either European champions Inter Milan or Asian champions Seongnam Ilhwa in Sunday's final.
“I’m hoping they go all the way,” Mwanga said said of Mazembe. “But even if they don’t, I’m really excited that a team from the Congo is representing the whole continent.”
Full season ticket plans are on sale now for the 2011 season! CLICK HERE for more information on becoming a Union season ticket holder.