Assessing the Departure of Jack McInerney

[Note from Vince: This is the first article from Joel Hoover who, if you’re into soccer, is kind of a big deal. However, being a true Philly sports fan, he’s very knowledgeable about all five of Philly’s teams. He also took my lunch money once and I told my mom on him.]

WengerFriday morning in the Philadelphia sports landscape saw a surprise early-season development take place down in Chester.

The Philadelphia Union, fresh off a disappointing 1-1 draw with the Montreal Impact last weekend, traded young forward Jack McInerney to Montreal in exchange for 2012 MLS SuperDraft No. 1 pick Andrew Wenger.

McInerney was a Union original, picked seventh overall in the 2010 SuperDraft by the team prior to their inaugural season. Though he was kept in the depths of the team during Peter Nowak’s tenure as manager, it was under John Hackworth that he was finally given a chance to flourish as a regular in the starting XI. The 21-year-old made his breakthrough early in the 2013 season, scoring 10 goals in the opening 14 matches of the MLS season to earn a call-up to the United States Gold Cup team and an MLS All-Star selection. He would finish with 12 MLS goals in 2013, before tallying one in four matches this year to bring his total with the team to 25 goals in 95 matches.

Wenger comes to the Union after being the longtime attacking understudy of Montreal Impact Designated Player Marco Di Vaio. The 23-year-old scored six goals in 51 MLS appearances, but was mostly resigned to coming off the bench as a substitute. He is a native of Lancaster, PA, just an hour away from Chester, and also played for the Union’s PDL affiliate Reading United.

The departure of McInerney has been met with surprise, but as the day unfolded and details were discussed the reasoning is growing somewhat clearer.

With his Generation Adidas tag gone, McInerney was coming to the end of his contract at the end of this season. There was a team option that could have been exercised next offseason by the Union front office, but that would have been met with very high salary demands from McInerney. Given the salary cap MLS employs, and the presence of three newly-minted Designated Players on the Union’s squad, taking on a salary up around $400,000 would have been a very difficult task for the team. Plus, there has been talk for a while that McInerney and defender Amobi Okugo, the last Union original now, would not have both been able to take on a significant hike in their salaries.

With all of this in mind, Montreal may only be taking McInerney on for a one-year rental. The striker has spoken of his desire to move abroad to Europe in the past, and wouldn’t leave the possibility of it out in his initial press conference after the trade. If a move does not materialize after this season, Montreal may still be able to keep him, since DP Di Vaio is in the final year of his own contract and there is speculation that he may retire after this season. The Impact could then take on McInerney’s salary demands–which team sporting director Nick De Santis practically confirmed when he said that the team is planning to exercise the extra year on McInerney’s contract.

So what kind of player are the Union giving to Montreal? The question is actually a more difficult one to answer than a first glance would reveal, but it does play a factor into the reason they decided to do it.

Mcinerney

John Hackworth has expressed his desire to play a 4-3-3 formation, and has shown such desire already in the first four matches of the season. Such a formation calls for a typical No. 9 kind of player up front–a target forward with size, strength, skillful finishing and good hold-up play. McInerney may have worn the number nine shirt, but due to his size he played more like a center forward that would play underneath that kind of target player. Early in the season, his deficiencies in such a role showed, as he would often look to use quick touches and movement to open things up for himself up front. Opportunities have been more plentiful from the midfield players than from McInerney himself, perhaps a sign that more size is needed up front.

When the opportunities have come, the cutting edge McInerney showed during the first three months of the 2013 season has been lacking greatly since his Gold Cup call-up. He has spurned one-on-ones, shots in and around the box, and is no longer the surprise commodity he was at the beginning of last year. During his 17-match drought without a goal last season, he openly expressed that it had been a difficult time for him and had affected his confidence.

In observation of McInerney, one aspect of his ability as a player that perhaps flew under the radar is his touch. It is easy to recall many moments where McInerney’s suspect first touch has failed him in either the build-up to the final third of the field, or within the box itself as he would work to fashion a chance. Perhaps it has not been spoken of often, but if you watch the games closely enough, it is noticeable.

Top strikers need their touch and finishing abilities to be first-class. McInerney’s have proven to be as inconsistent as his goalscoring.

Goalscoring is something the Union themselves are attempting to solve. Their revamped midfield is suddenly the team’s catalyst, not the weakness as was the case one season ago. Vincent Nogueira is a consistent passer as a box-to-box midfielder. Maurice Edu has been the force that had been hoped for, stopping and launching attacks at either end of the floor. Cristian Maidana and Sebastien Le Toux, though inconsistent, have shown flashes from the wings. Brian Carroll remains captain, though questions abound about his abilities as the holding midfielder. Leo Fernandes has been a revelation off the bench.

But now all that remains is finding the consistency to finish up front. The Union have outshot their opponents in all four matches this season but scored just four goals and gone 1-1-2, with both draws resulting from late goals conceded. Conor Casey is returning from injury, but it was becoming clear that McInerney no longer fit what was needed up front.

In return comes Andrew Wenger, once the top high school and college player in the country and a local product. He is versatile, big, and unproven. And yet, he seems the perfect size compliment to Conor Casey in the #9 positional role.

While in Montreal, he endured finishing his degree from Duke University, several coaching changes, criticism over his finishing, and much time spent being tutored by Di Vaio. His opportunity to truly flourish in a starting role has not yet been tested, but John Hackworth said openly that Wenger would challenge for a starting position right away–as soon as his red card ban for a bad tackle against the Union is taken care of.

Plus, he is coming back to the relative comfort of Pennsylvania. Perhaps it is the impetus necessary to launch his career, which showed much promise back when he was taken No. 1 overall in the SuperDraft.

As he comes in, a Union original departs. Perhaps the best is still yet to come for Jack Mac…he is still just 21 years old. He has played at the national team level for several age groups. The ability exists.

But such potential will not be explored with the Philadelphia Union–a decision that may take this season and beyond to truly determine the outcome of. The initial impressions of the deal will be first felt today though, as the Union take on the Chicago Fire.
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Posted on April 5, 2014, in Posts, Union and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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