Photo by Howard C. Smith/ISIphotos.com
By THOMAS FLOYD
Through the early stages of this 2011 season, Philadelphia Union striker Danny Mwanga has seemingly epitomized the phrase "sophomore slump."
After notching seven goals last season en route to being a Rookie of the Year finalist, Mwanga has started just four of his eight games played this year. Prior to Wednesday's match against the Los Angeles Galaxy, he hadn't found net once.
That changed in the 84th minute Wednesday when he notched the goal that salvaged a 1-1 draw for the Union.
"It's great motivation for me," Mwanga said after the match. "Hopefully I'll work hard and just get another one for the next game and build from there for the rest of the season."
Here is some more news from around the Eastern Conference:
Young aspiring soccer players in the Chicago area will soon have 10 new artificial turf fields on which to hone their skills.
In what officials at the Chicago Park District say is the biggest donation in its history, the "Take the Field" initiative has pledged to contribute up to $10 million for fields in the city, as reported in the Chicago Tribune. The Fire and a Chicago Bears charity are among the contributors.
Coach Robert Warzycha has seen the play of striker Emilio Renteria mature since the Venezuelan arrived in 2009, noting he now "reads the game much better." The evolution has paid off on the field, as Renteria has notched four goals in his last three outings.
"He's allowing his teammates to help him," Warzycha told MLSsoccer.com "He's not trying to turn and go through four defenders. He's actually dropping the ball – not as often as I would like to yet, but he's doing much better than when he came."
One notably absent part of United's attack this season has been set-piece success. Aside from penalty kicks, United has just one goal against the run of play — a Marc Burch free kick April 29 at Houston. Free kick service from captain Dax McCarty has been particularly inconsistent thus far, and playmaker Branko Boskovic, one of United's alternative set piece options, will miss four to six months with a torn ACL.
"As far as the corners, [they're] not good enough. We're not getting enough joy out of those," coach Ben Olsen said. "Right now, we don't have a David Beckham. We don't have a real free kick artist, so to speak. But we've got some guys that can sting some balls and that can get better, absolutely."
Houston and FC Dallas may no longer be in the same conference, but that doesn't mean the rivalry between the Texas sides is any less fierce. Ahead of the teams' May 28 meeting, the Dynamo purchased a billboard near Pizza Hut Park that showcases the Dynamo's two MLS Cup trophies and reads, "Houston: Two times better than Dallas."
"We consider them our rivals because [of] the in-state portion, and I think Houston in general has a hatred for everything Dallas," Dynamo Senior Vice President Rocky Harris told MLSsoccer.com. "This year, we wanted to get the passion out on both sides. On Facebook, we saw fans were talking up the rivalry. We thought we should tap into what the fans were saying."
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION
Coach Steve Nicol acknowledged plans to sign a designated player during the summer transfer after the Revolution's scoreless tie with New England last weekend. According to the Boston Globe, the Revolution has targeted a European player among the top scorers in his national team’s history.
New England has already significantly bolstered its attacking corps since the start of the season, adding Danish striker Rajko Lekic and U.S. midfielder Benny Feilhaber.
NEW YORK RED BULLS
Goalkeeper Greg Sutton saw first-team minutes for the first time since suffering a concussion in March during New York's 1-0 friendly loss at the Montreal Impact on Wednesday. The Canadian international won the starting job in preseason but only played one match before the injury and has since given way to Bouna Coundoul.
"It's always a difficult match, for both sides really, in the middle of the week when you've got league matches on the weekend, so you're playing a lot of different players," Sutton said of friendly.
SPORTING KANSAS CITY
Coach Peter Vermes seems set to stick with Julio Cesar and Aurelien Collin in central defense Saturday against Los Angeles after removing Matt Besler from the lineup for the first time this season during the team's 1-0 loss to New York. Vermes, though, said the change "was not an indication of bad play" from Besler.
"I like the way he's progressing," Vermes told MLSsoccer.com "I feel good that we now have a good contingency of central defenders so if someone does go down, we've got guys that can go in and play just as well."
According to reports out of Toronto, defender Nana Attakora is being frozen out by TFC for not agreeing to a new contract with the club. Attakora's agent told CBC Sports the club is purposefully benching him until he agrees to a new deal, which the player doesn't want to do because of the coaching carousel he's seen revolve in his time with TFC. Attakora's contract expires at the end of the year.
Attakora did not travel with the team for its match in Dallas on Wednesday night and has not featured in a game since coming on as a late substitute in the club's loss to D.C. United on April 16. He joins Dwayne De Rosario and Adrian Cann as Canadian TFCers to be involved in a contract dispute with the club's management. As opposed to those two instances, though, this one appears to be spearheaded by the club.
Is Mwanga back on track after scoring against the Galaxy? Should United assign its set pieces to a new player? Think Toronto's treatment of Attakora is unfair?
Share your thoughts below.