Could the goal-scorer the U.S. men’s national team has been waiting on be a player from metro Atlanta?
Jack McInerney, who grew up in Alpharetta, is tied for the Major League Soccer lead in goals scored, with six in eight games this season. He will have a chance to add to that total when his Philadelphia Union host Seattle on Saturday.
Though McInerney, 20, has yet to feature for the U.S. men’s national team, other than on youth levels, he said making the team is not something he’s working toward. He’s focusing on the Union. While he’s scoring, the U.S. team has struggled to find the net recently, with two goals in its past four games. The U.S. team will participate in the Gold Cup this summer and is in the middle of trying to qualify for the 2014 World Cup, which will be played in Brazil. Goals will be needed.
“It’s been brought up,” he said of the Gold Cup, which will have two games at the Georgia Dome. “It’s not something I’m looking into. I know it could go away in a second. If I keep (scoring), hopefully it will lead to that.”
Taylor Twellman, a former U.S. national-team player who is an ESPN analyst, said McInerney may get called up by Jurgen Klinsmann before the Gold Cup begins July 7. The U.S. team will play exhibition matches against Belgium on May 29 in Cleveland and Germany on June 2 in Washington as part of their preparations for World Cup qualifying, which continues June 7.
“If you have a guy that’s hot, and you need a goal, why not bring him in?” Twellman asked.
McInerney definitely is hot. He has scored 10 goals in his past 14 games. Because of his knack for being in the right place at the right time, McInerney has drawn comparisons with Twellman as well as with Mexico’s Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, who rarely starts but often scores for Manchester United.
“He has that sixth sense,” Twellman said of McInerney. “Very active, being around the goal, expecting the unexpected. He does a good job setting himself up.”
Like Twellman and Hernandez, McInerney doesn’t dominate physically. Just 5-foot-10 and 155 pounds, McInerney instead relies on his instincts and awareness. Though he has been labeled as a “tap-in” scorer, which implies luck, McInerney has shown the skill that could make him a staple for the United States.
Consider his two goals against D.C. United in a nationally televised game earlier this year.
On the first, he recognized an opportunity for a break and ran into space, where teammate Connor Casey found him. McInerney split two defenders with a right-to-left dribble, and then calmly drilled a left-footed shot for the Union’s first goal.
His second came off a long throw-in that cleared D.C.’s defense. McInerney tipped the ball with his left foot and then used it again to volley a low line drive for the Union’s third goal. McInerney called it his best moment this year.
“Not really tap-ins,” he said.
It’s a much different experience for McInerney compared with his first 2 1/2 years. After he was drafted as a 17-year-old with the seventh pick, McInerney seldom played for Union coach Piotr Nowak. McInerney said he was seldom told why.
“I don’t think I was ready, but still I think I could have contributed,” McInerney said. “The coaching staff didn’t communicate those first three years.”
Twellman said that experience, while it may have been frustrating, should benefit McInerney later in his career.
“I had something similar in Germany,” he said. “At the time it was frustrating. It makes you a little bit hungrier. Jack went through the same thing. He’s hungry game in and game out. He doesn’t want to lose that position.”
Nowak was fired in June 2012 and replaced by John Hackworth, who moved McInerney into the starting 11 after he was an unused sub in the previous four games. He went scoreless in his first start and put in two goals in his second.
McInerney continued to gain experience with starts, and the serious goal-scoring started in late September.
Now, he just has to figure out how to keep it going.
“If I knew the answer I’d be scoring every weekend,” he said. “I’m not changing anything. Hopefully the team can find you in the right spot.”