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On Jack McInerney, the MLS All-Star Game and the U.S. national team

It's painfully hot outside, and the sports world is pretty quiet this week. So I took a few minutes to write about something that's been on my mind.

On Jack McInerney, the MLS All-Star Game and the U.S. national team

Jack McInerney celebrates with Union fans after scoring the winning goal. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)
Jack McInerney celebrates with Union fans after scoring the winning goal. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)

It's painfully hot outside, and the sports world is pretty quiet this week. So I took a few minutes to write about something that's been on my mind.

Major League Soccer announced the matchday roster for the All-Star Game on Monday, and Jack McInerney wasn't included. That Sporting Kansas City's Peter Vermes, the coach of the All-Stars, chose to bypass the Union's rising star surprised quite a few people. 

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@thegoalkeeper : absolute joke Jackarito didn't make team.

— DE Doop (@DEDoop2) July 15, 2013

The other forwards on the roster are also worthy of inclusion:

- Vermes selected Vancouver's Camilo Sanvezzo, Chicago's Mike Magee and Los Angeles' Robbie Keane with his discretionary picks. Camilo is the league's top scorer, Magee is second in the scoring charts, and Keane is among the leading candidates for this year's Most Valuable Player award.

- Fans voted in San Jose's Chris Wondolowski and New York's Thierry Henry. Wondolowski was MLS' top scorer last year, and is perennially popular. He might not have made it might this year if not for the fan vote, but his presence is no surprise. Nor, of course, is Henry's, as he's the league's biggest superstar in its biggest market.

- Fans later added Montréal's Marco Di Vaio through a goal-scoring competition in EA Sports' hugely popular FIFA 13 video game. Some folks have taken issue with that as a mechanism for selection. But any All-Star game in any sport is as much a popularity contest as it is a reward for good performance. The Phillies can attest to that.

So there are five forwards on the squad, with Magee classified as a midfielder. Add them all together and you can see that McInerney, for as strong a season as he has had, faced a lot of competition.

From where I sit, it's possible that McInerney has become a victim of his own success. Here's why: As soon as he got called up to the U.S. national team's CONCACAF Gold Cup squad, he was bypassed in the scoring charts. 

When McInerney left the Union at the start of July, he was tied with Magee and Di Vaio at 10 goals each. Now Camilo has 12, and Magee and Di Vaio have 11. 

I think McInerney will be on the All-Star squad by the time the game comes around on July 31. As I noted above, Vermes all but admitted that Keane is likely to withdraw.

It's also worth noting that there are four guys on the squad who are currently with the U.S. national team at the Gold Cup: defenders Corey Ashe and Tony Beltran, midfielder Kyle Beckerman and forward Kyle Beckerman.

Three more All-Star nominees are Gold Cup alternates: defenders Omar González and Matt Besler and midfielder Graham Zusi. They could be called up to the national team for the knockout rounds, and it wouldn't be surprising if that happens.

The Gold Cup final is July 28, and the All-Star Game is July 31. It certainly would be fair to give some of the players who played in the final a midweek rest.

So there will be plenty of opportunites for McInerney - and perhaps Sheanon Willians or Sébastien Le Toux as well - to make the trip to Sporting Park. If they only end up being named as alternates on the full 32-man All-Star list, they'll still get paid the bonus that's in the collective bargaining agreement. But I think the Union will be represented on the field at the All-Star Game when all is said and done.

A bigger question, though, is whether the Union will be represented on the field at the Gold Cup. That is in serious doubt now, and I know it's a subject that has had a lot of people talking in recent days.

Here are my thoughts on that. I'd be interested to hear from you as well.

When McInerney was called to the Gold Cup squad, just about everyone in the U.S. soccer community was really happy for him. Here was a great opportunity to train with some of the top Americans in MLS and beyond, and to learn from one of soccer's all-time great scorers in Jurgen Klinsmann.

There was also a lot of of hope - if not at least a little expectation - that McInerney would get to play in a game at some point during his time away from Philadelphia. That hasn't happened yet.

I thought, as did many others, that McInerney's time might come in one of the games against lightweight opponents. There was a pre-tournament friendly against Guatemala, and group stage games against Belize and Cuba. If the U.S. could roll up a big lead before Klinsmann ran out of substitutes, that would give McInerney a chance for a cameo appearance.

Klinsmann decided to give his top selection just about all 90 minutes against Guatemala, in order to build chemistry on the field. That didn't surprise me; it's what the game was there for.

I thought the Belize game would be McInerney's best shot to make the field. The Jaguars were the weakest opponent of the bunch. Klinsmann used his last substitution in the 66th minute, when the score was 4-1 - big enough to not be too woried about the final score.

But Wondolowski wasn't taken off. Once it became clear that he'd play the entire game, the reaction in Philadelphia was predictable:

Next came Cuba, another opponent ripe for a blowout. But things didn't go according to script. The U.S. gave up an early goal and labored to really get going until well into the second half. Klinsmann had to make substitutions just to win the game. So the circumstances were never right for McInerney to play.

With the U.S.' easiest opponents now in the rear view mirror, McInerney's chance may have passed. Klinsmann is well aware that the group stage finale against Costa Rica is too big a game to risk a player with no international experience.

If the U.S. wins the group, there could be a quarterfinal matchup with a lesser team, such as Trinidad & Tobago or Martinique. That might give McInerney one last shot. After that, it's likely the U.S. will see Honduras in the semifinals and Panama or Mexico in the title game. As with Costa Rica, all three opponents would demand the U.S.' top squad.

So the question will ineviably arise: as Klinsmann is allowed to make four roster changes between the group stage and knockout rounds, should he send McInerney home? 

Union fans would likely say yes, with games against Western powers Portland and Vancouver coming soon.

I say no.

To me, McInerney should spend as much time as he can soaking in as much knowledge as he can from a national team camp. Even if he doesn't get to play in a game, the experience of working with Klinsmann, Landon Donovan, Stuart Holden and others will teach McInerney what it takes to raise his game to the international level.

In the long run, that will serve McInerney in better stead than a week with his club team. Especially when that week includes the Union's longest road trip of the year.

I also think that the U.S. can make better use of its four roster swaps than by using one on McInerney. The team has had some defensive issues thus far, and there are players in the pool who would help with that.

I'd make these four changes, in order of priority:

Out: Edgar Castillo, Brek Shea, Oguchi Oneywu, Michael Parkhurst
In: Brad Evans, Graham Zusi, Matt Besler, Brad Davis Chris Pontius

(I didn't realize that Davis got hurt over the weekend, so he likely wouldn't be available.)

The U.S.' attack has enough firepower with Hérculez Gómez, Donovan and Wondolowski, and an impressive array of central midfielders. It's best now to shore up the back line and the wings, which are strengths of the U.S.' upcoming opponents.

And if there is an opportunity for McInerney to play, Klinsmann is smart enough to know when to take it. The coach has had nothing but good things to say so far, and wouldn't have summoned a player he didn't want to see up close.

There are plenty of good things to come for McInerney. Whether it's with the national team or the All-Star team, he'll get his chances to shine.

And if McInerney takes those chances right, the Union's short-term pain will be paid back and then some with long-term gain.

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
About this blog
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.

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
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