CHESTER, Pa. – Jack McInerney never seems to stop moving.
It's hard to blame him. He spent much of the first half of the season watching from the sidelines under former boss Peter Nowak. Now he's the focal point of a mobile, resurgent and unfettered Philadelphia attack that has tapped into the wealth of attacking options already in place to fuel a somewhat unexpected revival under interim manager John Hackworth.
McInerney isn't the prototypical choice to function as the lone forward in the Union's 4-5-1 setup. He isn't large and he isn't blazing fast. He does, however, possess more than enough skill and speed to trouble defenses and he understands how to create room and facilitate the play for creative fulcrums Freddy Adu and Michael Farfan.
“My role is basically to stretch the defense and create a gap between the defenders and the midfield so Michael and Freddy can tuck in, find the ball in those holes and spring me or find a shot themselves,” McInerney said.
Most of the time, the work at the sharp end falls to his feet or, somewhat surprisingly given his stature, his head. Adu has largely failed to impress despite the Union's resurgence, while M. Farfan offers cadence and incisiveness rather than end product as he floats through midfield. The qualities supplied by others have left McInerney to burrow his way between defenders to latch onto crosses from overlapping fullbacks, drop into midfield to link play and fend for balls over the top as he tries to carve out chances.
“Jack's always trying to get into good spots,” Union defender Sheanon Williams said. “He does a great job of making great runs all game. Sometimes, he doesn't get rewarded with the ball, but that doesn't stop him. He continues to make great runs all game. When he gets rewarded for them, that's what he deserves.”
Sunday night's 2-1 victory over New England provided yet another example of how that movement creates opportunities. McInerney's clever little run created incidental contact with Revolution right back Kevin Alston on edge of the penalty area after 58 minutes and somehow prompted overwhelmed referee Edvin Jurisevic to award a penalty instead of the proper free kick. He amplified his impact in the match by floating over to the far post to majestically head home Williams' enticing service in the 90th minute to give the Union all three points.
The winner increased McInerney's haul under Hackworth to four goals in seven games (and the team has scored 14 in eight outings after mustering 10 goals from 11 matches under Nowak) and underscored his dramatic transformation from bit part to integral piece. McInerney had played just 97 minutes in five substitute appearances, but he stepped straight into the starting XI when Hackworth assumed control. It represented a bold move by Hackworth and a stunning display of faith in a 19-year-old striker with no proven pedigree at this level.
“It just shows that he has confidence and he's putting it in me,” McInerney said. “For him to do that, it's something special. I'm just thankful for the opportunity.”
McInerney's ability to take that chance has helped to guide the Union to four straight victories and revive distant hopes of a playoff run in the stratified Eastern Conference postseason picture. Those aspirations appear far off in the distance for the moment even as the Union continue to produce in the final third (14 goals in eight games under Hackworth after 10 goals in 11 matches under Nowak), but McInerney will continue to do what he can to move toward them as part of a group that has leaned on its attacking proclivities and rediscovered its joy for the game under Hackworth's stewardship.
“He's just given me the opportunity,” McInerney said. “He put me out there on the field the first day. I've just been trying as hard as I can. I have to win the crowd over. Hopefully, if I keep scoring, he has no choice but to keep me on the field.”
Five Points – Week 19
1. Warm hosts ensure positive away days for several sides: Road teams emerged with five victories and a draw from nine total matches this weekend. In a league where home teams emerge with a positive result far more often than not (home teams averaged 1.72 points per game from 1996-2010, according to MLSsoccer.com), this weekend provided a timely reminder that no outing can be taken for granted as teams churn through their schedules.
2. Hectic schedule finally gets to Jay DeMerit: The former U.S. international defender keeps himself in fantastic shape, but even he couldn't overcome yet another 90-minute display in midweek and a terrible travel day on Thursday to perform at his best in the Whitecaps' 2-1 defeat at Real Salt Lake on Friday night. In sharp contrast to his man-of-the-match caliber performance in midweek, DeMerit looked a step off for most of the night at Rio Tinto Stadium. His two biggest contributions fell on the negative side of the ledger – giving away a penalty kick for RSL's first goal and hitting an ill-advised back pass from midfield to prompt Joe Cannon's second-half dismissal – on a night where Vancouver struggled to find its rhythm at Rio Tinto Stadium.
“I think we've taken the high road on the situation with Jay and the all-star game, but it didn't help us tonight,” Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie told TEAM 1410 (Vancouver) after the match. “I think Jay being 100 percent would have helped, as would a number of other little things.”
3. The more things change in Houston, the more they stay the same: Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear has introduced a revamped tactical setup (4-3-3) and relied more on technique (why not with Brad Davis and Boniek Garcia as the twin creative engines in midfield?) during the club's recent run of good form. For all of the improvement on the ball over the past month or so, Houston showed it can still lean on three of its pillars – industrious work rate, impervious defending and precise set piece work – to extend its winning streak to four matches with a 2-0 victory at Toronto FC.
TFC hardly managed a sniff of goal all day as the Dynamo back four showed the type of form required to backstop a lengthy playoff run (even without Jermaine Taylor in the fold). Calen Carr polished off a tidy flick from Bobby Boswell (off another inch-perfect Davis corner kick) to snare the lead just before halftime. Davis – prompted by the Dynamo winning yet another second ball in midfield – cut back for Brian Ching to sweep home the killer second in the late stages to push the unbeaten run to seven matches.
Houston will see its recent resurgence tested over the next two weeks with a home-and-home against New York. With that caveat in place, one thing is certain: the Dynamo are once again exhibiting the characteristics they have used time and again to mount deep playoff runs.
4. Alessandro Nesta marks his Montréal debut with all three points: It wasn't all smooth sailing for the former Milan great in the Impact's 3-1 home victory over New York. There were times – like the moment Red Bulls center back Markus Holgersson somehow failed to score after evading the former Italian international's shoddy marking job after 12 minutes – when Nesta betrayed his lack of match fitness and sharpness. The final accounting, however, certainly ended up in Nesta's favor as he revealed his lingering quality as the match progressed and his partnership with Nelson Rivas looked quite a bit more stable than most of the previous pairings Jesse Marsch has tried in that department so far this season.
Between Nesta's reasonably solid debut and Marco Di Vaio's first goal in blue and white (and a well deserved tally given his work rate, it must be said), the Impact can finally cite the Italian delegation as a source of strength for at least one night. With Patrice Bernier (a player Thierry Henry cited as the most important player to the Impact in his post-match assessment) and Felipe Martins in fine form as well, Montréal may just find a way to inch up the table if it can start to produce results on the road to couple with its stellar home form.
5. Not even Sean Johnson's heroics could stop San Jose in the late stages: Johnson (10 saves) stood on his head for much of Chicago's 1-1 draw at Buck Shaw Stadium, but the Earthquakes – as they usually do – scrapped and clawed until they found their equalizer. Steven Lenhart grabbed the tying goal eight minutes into stoppage time (possibly a minute or two too deep for the Fire's liking) to ensure the Earthquakes rescued yet another late result. The last-gasp draw kept Frank Yallop's side two points ahead of Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference race and pegged back a Fire group that has emerged as a genuine playoff contender in the Eastern Conference.
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSsoccer.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.
Follow GOAL.COM USA on