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Union's win over Toronto a birthday gift for Mwanga

On the day that marked the 19th year of his life, Danny Mwanga was out on the pitch at PPL Park living his dream.

It was Danny Mwanga's birthday on the day the Union defeated Toronto FC, 2-1. AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
It was Danny Mwanga's birthday on the day the Union defeated Toronto FC, 2-1. AP Photo/Matt Slocum)Read more

On the day that marked the 19th year of his life, Danny Mwanga was out on the pitch at PPL Park living his dream.

Mwanga doesn't remember when he fell in love with soccer, but he recounted a picture in his mother's living room with him, soccer ball at feet, in his native Congo at just a year old.

The journey from then to today has spanned two continents, and both shores of the United States; Mwanga lived in Oregon while becoming an All-America and M.A.C Hermann Trophy finalist at Oregon State.

So as the chants of "Happy Birthday Mwanga" resonated down the rows of the River End, the Union's supporters section, Mwanga took it with the swagger of a teen, disguised under the grace of a professional.

Saturday, the Union's 2-1 win over Toronto FC was the 13th game of Mwanga's professional soccer career after being selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft in January.

While he failed to make the stat sheet, he didn't have to as stoppage time provided a penalty kick thriller courtesy of surefooted forward Sebastien Le Toux, who capitalized on a 94th minute handball in the box from Toronto substitution Maksim Usanov.

"When I woke up this morning, I was really hoping that we would win this game because we needed a win in the league," Mwanga said. "So it was the perfect birthday present for me."

The win avenged a 2-0 loss at Toronto's BMO Field on April 15. Le Toux' goal and a near-post header from defender Michael Orozco Fiscal off a Le Toux corner in the 61st minute provided all the Union needed to earn its fourth win of the season (4-8-2). The win pulled the Union out of the Eastern Conference cellar; it now sits tied with New England (4-9-2) for sixth place.

"First of all, it was good to get the much needed three points, I think it was a reversal of fortune today," said manager Peter Nowak. "It was good to win a game in this fashion. I think the better team won today. We slept one time and got punished for it, but it feels good to get the three points."

But when it comes to the notion of the Union being the better team, Toronto coach Preki begged to differ.

"They were bad then and they were bad now and I didn't think they were that good, to be honest with you. I thought they were the same," said Preki, who played 28 games for the U.S. national team from 1996-2001. "It was two weird plays [on both Union goals]. I didn't really think they had a chance to score a goal on us today . . . I give them credit they fought, but I didn't think either team was great or that the game was that great. It was slow, lethargic and hot."

Whatever the game might have seemed to the disgruntled coach, the final put a huge smile on the face of Mwanga.

"It was a team effort. We kept on pushing and even though Toronto wanted to sit back and take the 1-1 tie, we kept pressing them. When we do that we usually come out with a goal and it was nice to see that today," Mwanga said.

The Union will need all it can muster against one of the best team's on the globe when it plays Manchester United at Lincoln Financial Field on Wednesday (7:30 p.m., ESPN2).

Sights and sounds

Alejandro Moreno sat in the Union locker room with his right knee heavily wrapped with ice, after playing 54 minutes. Listed as a bone contusion, it's an injury that has plagued the forward for close to a month. When asked if it was becoming more of an ailment than a nagging injury, Moreno quipped, "Well, I don't need Ben-Gay or anything if that's what you are asking." Trainer Paul Rushing confirmed that the injury is one that some days "feels better than others." . . . Don't be surprised if Sebastien Le Toux' is on today's release of the 12 additional players to be named for the July 28 MLS All-Star Game in Houston. The Daily News has learned the 26-year-old Frenchman nabbed the honor either by 10 coaches' picks or a final two players to come via MLS commissioner Don Garber.