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Season Review: Jack McInerney

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Editor’s note: At the end of the first two Philadelphia Union seasons, we posted a series of end of the season reviews of every Union player. Over the next several weeks, PSP continues with a review of the 2012 season.

20-year-old goal-scoring sensations are few and far between. Of those who scored double-digit goals in MLS in 2012, the youngest was Will Bruin, who weighed into the Dynamo’s finals run with a dozen goals. He is three years older than Philadelphia Union phenom Jack McInerney.

Had a preseason poll been conducted of which player would see the largest bump in playing time following the departure of Sebastien Le Toux, McInerney would have likely topped the list. Yet, under Peter Nowak increasingly head-scratch inducing tenure, the minutes did not come. McInerney was exiled into the reserve team wilderness, often failing to even make the game day roster, and suddenly it seemed his career was at a standstill. Not that he had been given ample opportunity in either of his first two seasons, but for the first time since he arrived as the 7th pick in the 2010 MLS Superdraft, it began to seem likely that McInerney would never become a contributor in Philadelphia.

A trade seemed imminent. But before any deals could be made, it was Nowak, not McInerney, who was shown the door. Danny Mwanga was unfortunate to have found himself under Nowak’s axe before the firing was completed, and while that depleted the team of another scoring option, McInerney quickly leaped up the pecking order and found himself back on the pitch under John Hackworth. The rest, as they say, is history. With renewed confidence under Hackworth, McInerney went on to lead the Union in scoring despite missing out on much of the first half of the season.

High Point

In what was a standout second half of the season for the no-longer-teenaged striker, three moments jump off the page, two of which came against New England. And surprisingly, McInerney’s cheeky back-heeled goal in the July 4 road win over 2011 and 2012 MLS Cup Champion LA Galaxy ranks as the lesser of the three. The goal itself was a thing of brilliance, with McInerney having the presence of mind to take a the quick touch towards goal, rather than attempting to settle or contort his body for a more traditional strike.

The second moment came on October 6, against lowly New England Revolution. After failing to hit the target with a first half breakaway, McInerney continued to attack undeterred. With all the possession and still no goals to show for it, it seemed an inevitability that the Union would squander another dominant performance, failing to snatch all three points on offer. But in the 73rd minute, Keon Daniel’s floating free kick eluded the outstretched fingertips of Bobby Shuttleworth, allowing McInerney to ghost in at the back post, powering home the match-winning header. While it may not have been the most beautiful of goals, it was McInerney’s third in as many games and showed the heart and determination with which the young striker goes about his business.

And then there was the 90th minute winner against New England in July that ended with McInerney’s leap into the River End, an instantly iconic moment in the club’s young history.

Low Point

In a down year, like the one the Union just completed, every player has his share of poor, lamentable moments on the pitch, and McInerney was no exception. But regardless of the missed chances, frustrating lack of service, and the lack of chemistry the Union’s lone forward often felt from his midfield, none of it compares to his incomprehensible benching to begin the year under Peter Nowak. Just a pawn in another man’s power struggle, McInerney languished on the bench despite watching his team open the season with an abysmal scoring record, with only 6 goals tallied from their first 8 matches of 2012. That McInerney was chomping at the bit when John Hackworth called his name is unsurprising. But the manner in which McInerney quickly began to show his quality is a testament to the mental toughness of the young player.

Strengths

Few MLS strikers run better lines and demand the ball of their teammates like Jack McInerney. Whether he is moving towards goal or angling away towards the corner flag, he offers his midfield a constant target. Comparable, perhaps, to a Robbie Keane type player, McInerney will not bulldoze defenders with his strength, or bamboozle them with his speed, but time and again he puts himself in the right place to grab scoring chances and aid in the build up.

While his finishing was not always on song, McInerney proved that he could score goals in a number of different ways, reminding any defender who slept on him, that he is a competent header of the ball, despite his smaller stature.

Weaknesses

He needs to learn to keep up the fight for a full 90 minutes. McInerney showed dramatically improved hold-up play in 2012 but also showed a worrying propensity for dropping too deep into the midfield to collect the ball. For the Union to succeed, he must be pressing his luck up high. Especially in the 4-2-3-1 formation that Hackworth favored towards the end of the year, McInerney’s frequent forays into the midfield allowed opposing defenses to press towards the midfield stripe with little to no threat of retaliation from the deep-seated Union.

Additionally, when McInerney does find himself on the ball with his back to goal, he must improve his patience. One and two-touch soccer is nice, but not when your entire team is deep in its own half and looking to surge forward. By taking a few extra touches, McInerney can allow his teammates to move into improved positions before he distributes.

Eight goals from slightly more than half a season is no small haul, but for McInerney to develop into a top striker in MLS, he must improve his shot from distance. Defenses across the league must respect his slicing runs, meaning that should he pop up at the top of the box, he will be able to find the space needed to strike at goal.

Outlook

For all the good McInerney provided the Union in 2012, his outlook is hardly black and white. The Union have made no mystery of their search for a prolific, experienced finisher and should they find their man, that could spell trouble for McInerney. In a single striker setup, there would simply not be room for both and McInerney has yet to prove that his skill set is suited to life on the wing or in midfield. The Union could look to Chris Rolfe in Chicago as a potential positioning option for McInerney, playing directly behind a bigger striker—Sherjill MacDonald in the Fire’s case—but that requires more playmaking and offensive catalysis than McInerney has in his bag of tricks this early in his career.

Perhaps in a 4-3-3, McInerney could use the extra space to run off the ball, but again he would be required to take a bigger part in the possession game. For McInerney, a two-striker set looks the best option, and Union fans should hope that if this become Hackworth’s formation of choice, he allows his team to take the pitch with only one CDM, negating the “empty bucket” effect and allowing the pair of strikers to operate with an attacking central midfielder.

Regardless of the tactical outcome, Union fans can be confident that they possess one of the top young talents in MLS. True, there is plenty of work to be done before he resembles the finished product, but the good money says that McInerney may hit 10 goals in 2013 before he is legal to buy a beer.

Stat chart legend:
POS: Position; GP: Games Played; GS: Games Started; MINS: Minutes; PA: Passes Attempted; PC: Passes Completed; P%: Passing Accuracy Percentage; G: Goals; A: Assists; SOG: Shots on Goal; SOG/S%: Percentage of Shots that are on Goal; G/SOG%: Percentage of Shots on Goal Converted; SC%: Scoring Percentage; G/90min: Goals per 90 minutes; Hm G: Home Goals; Rd G: Road Goals; FC: Fouls Committed; FS: Fouls Suffered; YC: Yellow Cards; RC: Red Cards

7 Comments

  1. One other weakness for JackMac is that he needs to make sure he keeps his cool. He gave the ref an excuse to give him a red card in Montreal and he has taken several unnecessary yellows. If memory serves, he also had a late game red card in LA in 2011.

    • Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

      Keeping his cool is definitely something he will need to improve upon with age, but I dont hold the red card in Montreal against him. It was such an absurd situation and the referee made such a terrible mess of it that I think you just have to chalk that one up to shit happens.

    • While red cards are never good, I dont have much of a problem with that incident. Sometimes, you just need to hit the other guy back and show you wont be pushovers. Yes, mindless violence has no place in soccer, but I know from experience that standing up and getting a little “rough” with a team can make em respect you a little more.

  2. Now we are talking “goal scoring ace”…

  3. I really hope for the teams sake and the young guys sake, that hack makes the formation a 4-1-3-2.

    Gaddis-Baky/Parke(if that happens)-El Capitan-Williams
    Okugo
    Garfan/Keon-Marfan-Cruz
    Mclerney-New striker/Hoppy

    I think an Okugo Marfan combo would be awesome, and with garfan and Cruz on the flanks, opposing defenses would have nightmares.

    • ah man… you made my mouth water a little bit with that “to-be” lineup… even with the holes…

    • The Black Hand says:

      GIANT holes in the proposed lineup. I really don’t see Michael Farfan getting the job done in the ten. I think that he holds a little talent but, on the whole, is vastly overrated and predominantly ineffective. His flanking midfielders are very good at being dispossessed and not being able to control the pace of a match. I see a lot of long balls played, over the top, to a greatly undersized striker. Most of those being halted by the referee’s whistle because McInerney cannot stay onside. I think that both he and Hoppenot have value coming off the bench, but I don’t see them being regulars in any starting XI. The club club needs to pursue some quality signings if we want to re-establish ourselves as a competitive football club. LeToux is not exactly what I had in mind, but he is definitely an upgrade (which speaks more of our lack of striking talent, than the talent brought in with LeToux).

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