Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Union trade Jack McInerney to Montreal Impact

It has not been lost on anyone watching the Union that Jack McInerney has scored just three goals in his 18 appearances since being part of the United States national team's Gold Cup roster last year. It also has not been lost on those wondering when McInerney will fulfill his longstanding potential that the 21-year-old forward is in the final year of his contract with the Union.

Union trade Jack McInerney to Montreal Impact

The Union have traded striker Jack McInerney to the Montréal Impact. (John Geliebter/USA Today Sports)
The Union have traded striker Jack McInerney to the Montréal Impact. (John Geliebter/USA Today Sports)

It has not been lost on anyone watching the Union that Jack McInerney has scored just three goals in his 18 appearances since being part of the United States national team's Gold Cup roster last year.

It also has not been lost on those wondering when McInerney will fulfill his longstanding potential that the 21-year-old forward is nearing the end of his contract with the Union.

So if ever there was a time for the Union to get some value for McInerney, it's now.

That's why the Union dealt McInerney to the Montréal Impact on Friday for forward Andrew Wenger. The 23-year-old Lititz, Pa., native was the No. 1 pick in the 2012 SuperDraft, but has struggled to develop under the Impact's carousel of head coaches in recent years.

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“Andrew is a young and talented attacking player who we think is a good fit with our style of play,” Union manager John Hackworth said in a statement issued by the team. “Jack was an important member of our squad over the past four years, but the reality is our team has evolved and this deal puts our team in a better overall position long-term."

The second part of that quote definitely sends a message.

McInerney spoke with reporters on a conference call Friday afternoon, and said that he "was a bit surprised" to be leaving the only professional club he's ever known.

"I didn’t expect it - I had no idea," he said. "I just came in this morning like every other day and John Hackworth pulled me aside and said they made the trade."

McInerney said he "was informed not to talk about my contract situation" by the Impact. But it's well known that McInerney wanted a raise from the Union, and not a small one. As he told MLS Transfers back in December: "Unless they came to me with something a good bit up there, I wouldn't take it."

Hackworth was under no such constraints when he held a conference call a few minutes after McInerney spoke. Nor was Impact sporting director Nick De Santis when he met the press later Friday.

De Santis told reporters in Montreal that McInerney has one option year left on his contract that can be exercised the team's discretion. Dan Walsh of the Philly Soccer Page reported Friday night that McInerney's option-year salary will be "around $400,000," which is close to the Designated Player threshold.

The Union decided they were not going to pay McInerney that much. De Santis said he will.

Hackworth was asked directly whether McInerney's contract status was a factor in the trade. His answer: "I would tell you that yes, that's part of it."

"There were going to be some implications to whether Jack was here long-term or not," Hackworth added. "Not that I don't think we could have signed Jack to another contract, but it certainly presents another set of problems when a player is at the end of a contract and you know what you're going to have to do to retain his rights."

Has McInerney yet earned the right to be paid DP money next year? At this time last season, he seemed to be on the track to stardom. But his lack of production since that national team callup - and his frustration about not scoring - have raised red flags.

McInerney acknowledged that the slump has affected him, and his trade value.

"The year before last season [i.e. 2012] was my first real taste of action every week, and I was prepared for it going into the [2013] season," he said. "That contributed to my good start, and my confidence was high. Then I got called up to the national team and was out of the mix for a month and didn’t really find my form again."

McInerney added that his loss of form was caused by "a bad mixture" of factors.

"My confidence went down and at the same time the team wasn’t playing well," he said. "It didn’t bode well for me."

And he acknowledged that the bad form has carried over into this season a bit, even though he scored in the Union's first game of the season at Portland.

"It hasn’t been probably the best start to this year, but I feel [I still have] my confidence," he said. "If I am playing, I’ve proven that I can score."

In addition to the contract factor, McInerney has also made no secret of his desire to play in Europe as soon as he can. In that MLS Transfers interview, McInerney said "the plan right now is to play out my contract," and that he was "definitely interested" in going overseas.

He walked back those words Friday somewhat - but certainly not all the way.

"Previously I said that eventually I want to go to Europe, but I’m happy right now where I am," McInerney said. I meant it in that if something comes along, I would look into it, but I’m happy in Montréal. If I’m going to be playing, I’m going to be happy - that’s not going to change what I think, where I want to go or what I want to do."

Though this deal will probably save the Union some money in the long term, it won't in the short term. 

We don't have 2014 salary figures yet, but last year McInerney made $125,500.00 in base salary and $189,666.67 guarateed, and Wenger made $120,000.00 in base salary and $222,000.00 guaranteed.

The Union will be on the hook for that money even though Wenger is in the final guaranteed year of his original Generation Adidas contract. Because he has surpassed the maxiumum allowable playing time to still be in the program, his salary no longer is exempt from the cap.

Wenger still has two option years left on his deal. They come at the team's discretion, so it's a safe bet that the Union will have some latitude in being able to negotiate his salary down.

That flexibility could help the Union when it comes time to decide whether to give Amobi Okugo a new deal. The star defender is out of contract after next season, and there has already been plenty of chatter about whether the Union will spend big to keep him.

Hackworth insisted that the decision to trade McInerney has nothing to do with Okugo's future, though he did acknowledge that "both of them are in similar situations."

"It wasn't the case that there was going to be a choice between one or the other," Hackworth said. "We were going to have to do some moving in the future either way... but that wasn't a factor in the trade at all."

So what does Wenger bring to the Union? Good question. Like McInerney, he came to MLS with lots of potential that he hasn't truly delivered on.

It's no secret that Hackworth has long admired Wenger. It's also no secret that many observers in Canada have long scorned Wenger for not being as skilled as Marco Di Vaio, the Impact's No. 1 striker. But plenty of people on both sides of the border see the comparison as being unfair. Few strikers anywhere in MLS are at Di Vaio's level of skill, intellect and workrate.

Now Wenger will be free of that burden. He'll also be living closer to home, and he'll be playing for a coach who appreciates his talents. The Union have tried to trade for him a few times before, most recently at this year's SuperDraft.

"His skill set and what he brings to the team in just his work ethic alone is going to give him a good opportunity here in Philly, and hopefully one that he'll make the most of," Hackworth said. "I wouldn't say [the deal] was too good to pass up, but we felt it was the right time to make this move."

Wenger played both as a defender and as a forward in college at Duke and won ACC Player of the Year honors at both positions. Montréal tried him at both of those positions and in midfield over the years, but never quite found the right place for him.

Hackworth praised Wenger's versatility, saying he "could play on the left or right or drop into midfield and be as effective."

But Hackworth left no doubt as to where he thinks Wenger will fit best, calling him "more of a prototypical No. 9 than Jack was or is."

Wenger will be under some pressure to deliver. McInerney has been the Union's No. 1 striker for two full seasons now, with eight goals in 2012 and 12 last year. That production will have to be replaced, and it might take more than Wenger and Conor Casey to do so.

Hackworth acknowledged that Union took a big gamble in shipping out their top goalscorer.

"I think Jack has more to go" in terms of his potential for growth, he said. "Jack is still a young player that is playing his trade and is getting better at what he does ever day. We just hope that he doesn't get better against us."

Though Hackworth insisted that "we weren't disappointed with how Jack was playing," it's pretty clear that the Union's coaching staff felt they were ready to move on. As Hackworth noted, the time was right to make a deal.

It was not lost on McInerney, Hackworth or anyone else Friday that the Union and Impact will meet again three weeks from tomorrow at Stade Saputo. McInerney acknowledged that he has some motivation to prove his old team wrong, and that game might give him a chance to do so.

"Philly shipping me on makes me kind of - not disappointed in that, [but] it makes me want to prove myself even more," McInerney said. "I know the Impact are happy to have me and good things are ahead, and good things are planned... I just want to prove myself to not only the Montréal Impact fans and the players over there, but to the rest of the league."

One last note: neither player will be available to play for his new team this weekend. Wenger will serve a suspension for a red card last weekend (against the Union at PPL Park, coincidentally). McInerney is being given time by the Impact to move his life and settle in.

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The Goalkeeper is your home for the latest news about the Philadelphia Union, Major League Soccer, U.S. national teams and the rest of the world's most popular sport. It's also a place for fans to gather and celebrate the culture of soccer and its unique place on the sports landscape.

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