Keith Hickey: "Seabiscuit" McInerney gets chance to step up

The hottest player in Major League Soccer, McInerney's goalscoring instincts could earn him a chance to play on the international stage.
TORONTO -- Jack McInerney entered last week tied for the Major League Soccer lead in goals. On Tuesday, he scored in the U.S. Open Cup to help his Philadelphia Union side past Ocean City and into the fourth round. On Thursday, he was named MLS Player of the Month for the second time in a row. On Friday, he was named to the provisional 35-man roster for the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup.

With a week like that under his belt, a young striker could be forgiven for basking in his own glow a little bit. Instead, he was fending off jokes about his middle name.

"It is pronounced shaymus," he tweeted on Friday afternoon, after the rosters released by CONCACAF included players' full given and middle names, including his own "John Seamus." Teammate Amobi Okugo teased him, comparing his name to the famous racehorse Seabiscuit.

A thoroughbred is a fitting metaphor for McInerney's style of play. While the overall description of what he does is reductively simple (run around a track/score goals), it's the nuances of his play - picking his spots, timing his runs, holding back just behind the play only to come in and at the exact right moment exploit a spot the defense missed - that make him so dangerous when coupled with is natural ability, like a jockey positioning his mount, reining it in just behind the front-runner until the final stretch, where he unleashes its animal instinct in a mad dash to the finish line.

McInerney says that his positioning, which has proved key so many times this year, is not a conscious process.

"I think it's just one of those things," he said. "I kind of have an instinct to kind of drift away and hope for that ball no one else expects is gonna get there and I have to expect that."

That instinct has served him well. Consider his stoppage-time equalizer against Toronto on Saturday. With precious seconds rushing off the clock, Sheanon Williams stepped up to launch a trademark long throw into the box. As Williams readied, McInerney was in the clustered mass of players in front of the penalty spot. As Williams approached and launched his arcing throw into the scrum, the 5-foot-10 McInerney backpedalled out of traffic unnoticed, almost to the edge of the 18-yard box. The ball dropped in and was headed out, falling right to the No. 9, who settled, set, and zipped his shot low -- miraculously untouched -- into the far corner to seize a point and his MLS-best 10th goal of the season.

And that instinct, and McInerney's execution, and the goals that follow a successful blending of the two, have earned him an outside shot at this summer's Gold Cup, historically a place where promising young players have announced their arrivals. Before Benny Feilhaber was playing in the World Cup, he was scoring a world-class winner against Mexico in the 2007 final. Stu Holden broke through with a series of stellar performances en route to the final in 2009.

"Just an email," he responded when asked if he'd talked to the U.S. national team staff yet. "At the end of the month, they're cutting down the roster, there's no camp or anything. It's one of those things where if I'm on at the end, then good for me.

"Obviously I was excited, it's one of my goals to play for the national team. Hopefully I get the opportunity."

He's now scored five goals in his last six games in all competitions. What's more, his equalizers and game-winners have been worth 17 of the Union's 19 points this season. With form like that, he may be impossible for Jurgen Klinsmann to ignore.