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From Congo to Philly via Oregon
by Mike Woitalla, January 15th, 2010 7AM
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[MLS SUPERDRAFT] Danny Mwanga hardly left his house during the first couple months after he arrived in the United States from the Democratic Republic of Congo at age 14. "I didn't know anyone and I didn't know the language," says the No. 1 pick at the 2010 MLS SuperDraft. A soccer ball and a nearby park changed all that.

When he lived in Kinshasa, Mwanga played pickup soccer everyday, from when school ended at 1 pm, until 6 pm. His mother left the war-torn central African nation in 2001 in search of a better, safer life in the USA. Mwanga's father had died when Danny was 9, a victim of the Second Congo War, which took more than 4 million lives.

"It was very hard being away from my mother," says Danny, who joins MLS newcomer Philadelphia Union. "We talked sometimes on the phone. I waited and waited for the day we would finally be together again."

Mwanga lived with his grandmother, uncles and his three older sisters for four years until the day finally arrived when he and his sisters left to join their mother in Oregon.

He had heard about MLS while in Africa thanks to coverage of Freddy Adu signing with MLS. He had seen some of the USA's World Cup games, and knew the name Landon Donovan. But he had no idea of what soccer would be like for him in Oregon.

When he finally ventured outside of his house to the local park, he met some other soccer-playing kids, including an Ethiopian immigrant named Habtamu.

"We didn't know each other's languages," says Mwanga, "but with soccer, we could communicate a little."

Habtamu attended Jefferson High School and when Mwanga enrolled, Habtamu helped him meet new friends. The French-speaking Mwanga spent most of his first year, 11th grade, mastering English, and by his second year was up to speed academically. He also starred on the varsity soccer team.

After graduation, and the retrieval of his secondary school transcripts from Kinsasha with the help of the U.S. State Department, Manga was eligible to play NCAA Division I ball for Oregon State. He played two seasons for the Beavers, scoring 18 goals in 29 games, before signing a Generation adidas contract and entering the MLS SuperDraft.

"He always loved soccer," said Mwanga's mother, Leontine. "But I never imagined he'd be a professional soccer player. We're all very proud."

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