Inside the Union: Union need McInerney in starting lineup

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Philadelphia Union forward Jack McInerney. (Ron Cortes/Staff file photo)

As it has for the Union, this has been an up-and-down season for forward Jack McInerney, who carried the team early with 10 goals. Now he is looking to buy a goal, not to mention playing time.

McInerney hasn't scored in nine games, and that doesn't include the three he missed while he was with the U.S. Gold Cup team.

In Sunday's 5-1 loss at New England, McInerney didn't enter the game until the 76th minute, when the Union trailed by four goals.

For the team's lone all-star this season, that is a difficult situation. But the 21-year-old McInerney handled it well.

"There could be some benefit to me not starting that game," McInerney said in a phone interview. "Getting a little bit of a break and getting my legs back, because it's been a long season."

Now that McInerney has had his slight break, it's time for him to return to the lineup, although team manager John Hackworth wouldn't say whether he would start Saturday. The Union will play the Eastern Division's first-place Montreal Impact at PPL Park in Chester.

When it was suggested that McInerney, Conor Casey, and Sebastien Le Toux formed a dangerous offensive trio when they have been on the field, Hackworth said that wasn't necessarily the case, noting that other combinations have worked better.

Here is the main reason McInerney needs to be in the starting lineup in a game that has major playoff implications for a team trying to stay in the race:

The Union melted at New England. McInerney, despite his youth, is as mentally tough as any player, and the team needs that toughness right now. It is playing with a fragile psyche.

McInerney makes no excuses when talking about his scoring drought.

"It's definitely been tough and frustrating, and I feel it has been a combination of the fact I have been on a little unlucky streak and in a little slump," he said.

There is no doubt that the Union got shafted on a huge call at New England that Hackworth believes turned things around. A goal by Casey in the 55th minute that would have put the Union up, 2-1, was nullified when it was ruled that the Union forward had interfered with goalkeeper Matt Reis. It was clear from the replay that Reis didn't have possession - a terrible call, which for anybody who has seen the MLS officiating should come as no surprise.

That still wasn't an excuse to wilt.

So now the Union need a spark, and McInerney has proved that he can score in bunches.

Remember toward the end of last season when he scored goals in four consecutive games? Goal scorers go through these periods. And the game before he began that four-game streak, McInerney didn't play at all, so this has happened before.

McInerney, like all goal scorers, believes that if he hits the back of the net once, watch out.

"Early this year I was scoring every time," he said. "I want to get back to that, and the confidence will come."

The question is whether he'll get the playing time that will give him the chance to break out of the slump.

Hackworth praised McInerney for his brief work in Sunday's rout, but he wouldn't commit to starting him in this key game for the Union (10-8-8).

"Jack did a good job coming in that game and working hard, and it was a terrible situation," Hackworth said.

The situation will be worse if McInerney isn't on the field when Saturday's game starts.

 


Contact Marc Narducci at mnarducci@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @sjnard.