The Portland Timbers completed a blockbuster trade today, an exchange of strikers that sees Danny Mwanga return home as Jorge Perlaza leaves the Rose City for a new start with the Philadelphia Union.
For a Portland side that has struggled to score regularly this year, Perlaza’s departure is a sign that profligacy will no longer be tolerated, a reminder that hard work is no substitute for goalscoring production. A return of six goals in 41 matches over two seasons was considered not enough to continue with the Colombian, and a tally of zero goals in 10 appearances in 2012 opened the door for his departure.
While the promise of Mwanga’s prolific past proved the lure to a front office eager for a change in fortunes, a spate of injuries and lack of consistent playing time under now former manager Peter Nowak saw his production drop following a superb rookie season in 2010. His goal count this year level with Perlaza’s goose egg, one wonders which player will show their quality first for their new club.
Mwanga is yet another Union cog discarded by Nowak, a team that made the playoffs last year now a shadow of its former self as stalwarts Faryd Mondragon, Sebastien Le Toux, and Danny Califf all saw the exit door in the gaffer’s dealings, moves that leave the Union entrenched in the cellar of the Eastern Conference standings. The first ever draft pick of the expansion club just two years ago, Mwanga was deemed surplus to requirements and now seeks a fresh start in Portland.
For all the buzz around Mwanga’s imminent arrival into Portland, the city his family made home after fleeing civil war in their native Congo in 2006, he joins the club during a tumultous time. A late goal conceded against Cascadian rival Vancouver Whitecaps meant only a share of points in the last league outing, while a disastrous 1-nil loss to amateur club Cal FC in the US Open Cup was compounded by the 5-nil demolition of that same side in the tournament’s next round by the Seattle Sounders, their fiercest Northwest rival.
Mwanga will have roughly a week and a half to integrate with his new teammates, and while most new players are granted a honeymoon period, it’s hard to tell how much leeway will be given by the Timbers Army for the former Jefferson High School and Oregon State University star. He’s surely welcomed with open arms, but expectations will be high as the assumption is that the normal settling in period won’t be necessary for a player more familiar with Portland than anyone else on the roster.
Perhaps fortunately for Mwanga, his debut will come on the road in the team’s next match away to the Los Angeles Galaxy, a June 17th encounter that pits two sides yearning for a climb up the table after inauspicious starts to the season.
While Perlaza brought pace and constant running as a foil to Kris Boyd up top, Mwanga’s speed and power are highlighted by a much more formidable frame that is four inches and twenty pounds greater than his ersatz predecessor. It will be interesting to see how quickly the two can gel in partnership, Mwanga scoring many of his strikes alongside the similarly sized Le Toux, but the poaching style of the Scot is a drastically different approach from the Frenchman that now plies his trade in British Columbia.
Mwanga scored seven goals in his debut year, followed by five in his sophomore season, both reasonable returns for a young player, yet he’s failed to get off the mark this season and brings a salary second only to his new strike partner Boyd. Perlaza, by comparison, was a deal last season at less than half the price, but one would argue that a bargain contract bought only pedestrian results.
The upside to Mwanga is his potential, a player that scored 53 goals in 9 high school matches, while earning all league honors in each of his collegiate seasons in the PAC-10. Not just a scorer, Mwanga notched four assists in both 2010 and 2011, his one assist to date in 2012 evidence of his ability to provide even when he can’t produce.
For Portland general manager Gavin Wilkinson, it appears another slick bit of business coming through the gates of JELD-WEN Field, and only time will tell if it’s a coup for Timbers owner Merritt Paulson. While Nowak fell short in realizing Mwanga’s potential in Philly, Portland manager John Spencer can seize an opportunity to rejuvenate a player and an offense that both need cajoling.
For the Sons of Ben, the hope is that Perlaza can shake off his travails and follow in the footsteps of former Portland forward Kenny Cooper, now leading the league in goals. Here in Portland, the masses huddled in the Fortress of Thorns dare to dream that Mwanga can offer bite in an attacking third to take the sting out of the early days doldrums.