WORDS: GARRY HAYES
With his goals tally in double figures this season , Philadelphia Union forward Jack McInerney is making a big impression in MLS and has caught the eye of US national team boss Jurgen Klinsmann, earning a national team call-up. It’s early days but the future looks bright for the all-American prospect
Image: Greg Carroccio
For all the talk of big European names making Major League Soccer an attraction over the past decade, the league has been busy producing a few future stars of its own.
New England Revolution have the 18-year-old Diego Fagundez making headlines, while at DC United, Perry Kitchen is another player his club and country have high hopes for.
A little more than 140 miles or so to the north east of DC’s Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, however, is another homegrown talent who has topped them all this season – Philadelphia Union striker Jack McInerney.
A prolific, predatory type, he’s already been dubbed the “American Chicharito” following a breakthrough season in 2013 that has seen him receive a call-up to the US Men’s National Team, for their recent Gold Cup success.
Indeed, a label like that so early in a player’s career could prove a burden for some, but not McInerney. The American Chicharito or not, he’s a player going places.
“We have a similar style of play, but I think that’s where the comparison ends,” he commented recently with all the maturity of a man beyond his years. “He [Hernandez] plays for Manchester United, one of the biggest teams in the world, so I don’t think you can really compare us like that.”
Yet MLS fans – and those of the Union in particular – are. They have good reason for getting a bit carried away where the 21-year-old is concerned, too.
The Tennessee-born frontman has averaged just under a goal every other game this term and, aside from Chicago Fire’s prolific Mike Magee, is the only American in the top 10 of the goalscoring charts.
What’s more, his 10 goals in 2013 have been worth an incredible 18 points for his team, with McInerney’s finishing proving the deciding factor in eight of their 27 games – five wins, three draws.
Last term, while The Union showed signs of the improvement we have witnessed, it still proved a frustrating campaign. On and off the field, the presence of Freddy Adu was causing tensions and they finished a considerable way off the Play-Off pace.
They’re now looking a sure bet for a place in the end of season finale, already surpassing their points tally of 2012 and looking every bit the team manager John Hackworth has been looking to produce.
McInerney has been a key part of it and like Hackworth’s own long-term vision for the club, it was a similar approach from the Union that has seen them benefit from their young striker’s talents.
The vast majority of sportsmen in America take the college route into the professional realms of their respective disciplines, continuing their education while competing for their schools at national level. McInerney chose a more direct approach, entering the MLS draft still in his teens and barely out of high school.
“I was spotted for the US U17 programme in Florida where you start at 15 and train right through to the World Cup,” he explained. “I was able to stay down there long enough, made it through the whole system and had an excellent opportunity to turn pro.
“I was in a position where I thought, if I attend college and play soccer, I could get injured and may never get the opportunity again, so I took it.”
That was 2010 and the Union made McInerney a first-round draft pick, seeing enough in the teenager to believe he was worth the risk.
Seeing McInerney in action now, it’s perhaps a little too dramatic to describe his capture as a gamble, but whatever word we use to explain the Union’s bold move, there is no doubt it has paid off.
Having included him in the US squad for the Gold Cup this summer, Jurgen Klinsmann seems to agree.
“I didn’t play, but I was brought in to get a taste of what the level and atmosphere was like and I think I got a good bit of that,” McInerney said, describing his first international call up. “Being away with the team, experiencing competition football at that level is only going to be good for me in the future.”
This summer has seen MLS hit the headlines following Clint Dempsey’s high-profile return to his homeland, leaving Tottenham Hotspur for Seattle Sounders in August.
If his form and development continue, Jack McInerney could very well be the next American star involved in a lucrative transfer – but this time heading in the opposite direction to his compatriot.