Timbers acquire Mwanga in trade with Philadelphia

Portland sends Perlaza to Union for hometown player

By Paul Danzer, Columbian Soccer, hockey and Community Sports Reporter



PORTLAND — Perhaps there was a bit of panic about the attack.

Certainly there was embarrassment in the aftermath of the May 30 loss to Cal FC in the U.S. Open Cup tournament.

But for the Portland Timbers, Wednesday’s trade that brings forward Danny Mwanga to his hometown is about more than a quick fix.

By trading away Colombian Jorge Perlaza, the Timbers acquired a young player who was the No. 1 pick in the 2010 MLS Draft after two standout seasons at Oregon State.

“We’ve been after Danny now for quite some time. It’s nice to have homegrown talent playing in front of their fans,” Timbers general manager Gavin Wilkinson said.

In 2006, Mwanga’s family settled in Portland after fleeing the civil war in the Congo. In only nine games of high school soccer with the Jefferson Democrats, he scored 53 goals.

Mwanga is expected to train with the Timbers for the first time on Friday. The team is idle until a June 17 road match against the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Wilkinson said the urgency to make a move ticked up after last week’s 1-0 loss to a team of amateurs. But he declined to describe this trade as a shake-up.

“It’s not just (up to) Danny to turn things around,” Wilkinson said. “It’s about bringing in a new player, a new dynamic, potentially a better fit with Kris Boyd.”

While Perlaza threatens defenses with his speed and movement without the ball, Mwanga is more apt to control the ball and run at defenders. At 6-foot-2, his size alongside Boyd could put a different type of pressure on defenders.

“Our inability to finish chances is a concern,” Wilkinson said. “Danny is a good finisher.”

After scoring 12 goals and playing in 51 games over his first two seasons in Philadelphia, Mwanga has not scored a goal this season. In fact, he has not scored in a league match since June 25, 2011. For a Philadelphia team that has won only two of its first 11 matches, Mwanga had five starts and one assist.

“I think he’s been starved for opportunities in Philly and he’s going to be given the opportunity here,” Wilkinson said.

Perlaza played in 41 games over two seasons with the Timbers, scoring six goals and adding two assists. He scored the first goal in Timbers MLS history.

When they started building a roster before joining MLS last season, Wilkinson, owner Merritt Paulson and coach John Spencer said they wanted a team of young, athletic players.

Mwanga turns 21 next month. Perlaza is 27.

So this trade makes the already youthful Timbers even younger.

Portland now carries 15 players 24 or younger, eight of those 21 or younger including regulars Kalif Alhassan and Darlington Nagbe.

Mwanga and Nagbe were both highly touted college players. The year after Mwanga was the league’s top draft pick, Nagbe was selected second overall by Portland.

“We have fans that expect us to win now, and they’re not wrong in expecting that,” Wilkinson said. “You also look at some of the pieces that we have and at what we’re trying to do: We’re trying to build a team, we’ve said it from day one, that can be successful over the long term.”

As is MLS policy, specifics of the deal were not released. According to salary information released on May 15 by the MLS Players Union, Mwanga’s base salary this season is $250,000, Perlaza’s $100,000.

Wilkinson said trading away Perlaza, who the Timbers worked hard to bring to MLS from his native Colombia, was difficult.

“What let him down was his finishing,” Wilkinson said. “But he’s a player who cared, a player who acclimated, brought his family over and committed himself to Portland.”

Philadelphia has three other Colombians on the roster. Sending Perlaza to a team where he has a chance to thrive was important, Wilkinson said.

“We do not want to develop a reputation of bringing in foreigners and shipping them to an environment that wouldn’t suit them as an individual,” Wilkinson said.

Matt Calkins contributed to this report

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