Philadelphia Union forward Jack McInerney's rapid rise to prominence in Major League Soccer this year has been rewarded with his first ever call-up to the senior United States national team.
McInerney has been named to coach Jurgen Klinsmann's 23-player squad for the CONCACAF Gold Cup, a three-week tournament of North and Central American teams that will take place across the U.S. next month.
"It means a lot for me," McInerney said in a statement issued by the team. "I got a phone call from Jurgen, and he told me that I had made it, [that] I've been having a good season [and] congratulations, and I was just excited."
The 20-year-old Tennessee native has scored 10 goals in 16 games for the Union this season. He's currently in a three-way tie with Chicago's Mike Magee and Montréal's Marco Di Vaio atop the Major League Soccer scoring charts. Klinsmann has clearly been paying attention.
"Leave age on the side - we want to make sure that when we bring in players, they're ready for it," Klinsmann said in a conference call with reporters. "There's no pressure on him at all, just a learning curve ahead of him."
Klinsmann expanded on his decision to call up McInerney in remarks given to the U.S. Soccer Federation's website:
He seems to be a player who is pretty hungry and has a great instinct for the goal, which is why he has 10 goals already this year. Off the field, we want him to take it one day at a time and become part of the group. It will certainly be important that we keep his feet on the ground and don’t make things bigger than they are.
I think he is in good hands in Philadelphia, and that’s the case with many players in MLS. I think that proves more and more that we don’t differentiate a player’s background; whether it is MLS, Mexico or Europe, we look at each case individually and try to build on that.
McInerney has played for U.S. youth national teams in the past. He played for the U.S. Under-17 team at the 2009 World Cup, and has also appeared at the Under-20 and Under-23 levels.
If McInerney takes the field for the senior squad in the coming weeks, he will become the first Union player to do so while on the club's roster.
Four Union players - Jeff Parke, Chris Albright, Brian Carroll and Conor Casey - have past experience with the national team, but all won their caps before coming to Philadelphia.
McInerney will be reunited with former Union defender Michael Orozco Fiscal on the Gold Cup squad. Now with Mexican club Puebla, Orozco Fiscal rose to fame last summer when he scored the winning goal in the U.S.' first ever victory at Mexico's famed Estadio Azteca.
Many of the other 21 players on the Gold Cup squad are also well known to American soccer fans.
The most notable is midfielder Landon Donovan, the U.S. national team's all-time leading goal scorer. He is returning to the national team after an offseason sabbatical saw him fall out of Klinsmann's good graces in recent months.
"We’ve watched [Donovan's] games and believe now is a good time to get him back into the national team and give him the opportunity to prove his point," Klinsmann said. "He knows that the group that played the World Cup Qualifiers is ahead of the curve and have a very strong position right now, and that he’s been observed by us and has to rebuild his case."
Eleven players on the roster took part in the three-game stretch of World Cup qualifiers for the U.S. earlier this month, including Hérclulez Gómez and DaMarcus Beasley. But for players such as McInerney, Josh Gatt and Mix Diskerud, the Gold Cup represents a big chance to make an impression on Klinsmann.
"We are excited about a roster for the Gold Cup that really has a shot of winning it," Klinsmann said. "The players that are representing us in this Gold Cup, they clearly know that this a huge opportunity to prove their value and their case to the coaching staff one year prior to the World Cup."
That opportunity has stakes beyond simply regional bragging rights. The winner of the Gold Cup will qualify for a one-game playoff against the winner of the 2015 Gold Cup that will determine CONCACAF's representative in the 2017 Confederations Cup.
Diskerud's inclusion is of particular consequence. He has made three appearances for the U.S. before, they were all in friendly games. That left the creative midfielder able to switch to Norway's national team if he wanted to.
Once he plays for Klinsmann at the Gold Cup, he'll be tied to the U.S. for good.
"With Mix we have a very special talent," Klinsmann said. "He made his decision to go with us, and that’s exciting."
The biggest omission from the team is defender and former U.S. national team captain Carlos Bocanegra. In a conference call with reporters, Klinsmann confirmed that Bocanegra "is on the move" from his current club, Racing Santander in Spain, and wanted to stay out of the Gold Cup to get his future settled. It's quite possible that he could end up in Major League Soccer.
Although the Gold Cup won't have games in Philadelphia this year - it last happened in 2009 - Union fans could have two opportunities to see their newest star in action on the east coast.
First up is the group stage finale on July 16 in East Hartford, Conn., against Costa Rica. That game will likely decide which team wins the group, and could also serve as a prelude to the two nations' big World Cup qualifying clash in September.
Assuming the U.S. reaches the knockout round - which is almost guaranteed in a group that also includes Cuba - it would play a quarterfinal game in Baltimore on Sunday, July 21. As the Union play the day before, it's an easy day trip for Philadelphia fans to make.
The championship game will take place a week later, on July 28, in Chicago. If the U.S. makes it that far, McInerney will likely miss a total of five games. That will be a big loss for the Union, as the team's July schedule is packed with MLS powerhouses.
McInerney will leave for the U.S.' pre-tournament training camp in southern California after Saturday's game against FC Dallas at PPL Park (5:00 p.m., NBC Sports Network). The training camp will conclude with a friendly against Guatemala on July 5 in San Diego.
But the experience McInerney will gain from being with the national team will pay far greater dividends down the road.
United States Gold Cup Roster
Goalkeepers (3): Bill Hamid (D.C. United/MLS), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire/MLS), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake/MLS)
Defenders (8): Corey Ashe (Houston Dynamo/MLS), DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla/Mexico), Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake/MLS), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana/Mexico), Clarence Goodson (Brøndby IF/Denmark), Oguchi Onyewu (Málaga/Spain), Michael Orozco Fiscal (Puebla/Mexico), Michael Parkhurst (FC Augsburg/Germany)
Midfielders (7): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake/MLS), Alejandro Bedoya (Helsinborgs/Sweden), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana/Mexico), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg BK/Norway), Joshua Gatt (Molde FK), Stuart Holden (Bolton Wanderers/England), Jose Torres (Tigres/Mexico)
Forwards (5): Will Bruin (Houston Dynamo/MLS), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy/MLS), Hérculez Gómez (Club Tijuana/Mexico), Jack McInerney (Philadelphia Union/MLS), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes/MLS)
After the group stage concludes, teams that qualify for the knockout rounds will be able to make up to four changes to the squad. The players brought in must come from
United States Gold Cup Schedule (all times Eastern)
Friday, July 5: vs. Guatemala at Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, Calif. (11:00 p.m., NBC Sports Network)
Tuesday, July 9: vs. Belize at JELD-WEN Field, Portland, Ore. (11;00 p.m., Fox Soccer Channel/UniMás)
Saturday, July 13: vs. Cuba at Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, Utah (3:30 p.m., Fox/Univision)
Tuesday, July 16: vs. Costa Rica at Rentschler Field, East Hartford, Conn. (8:00 p.m., Fox Soccer/UniMás)
Sunday, July 21: Quarterfinal at M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, Md. (4:00 or 7:30 p.m., Fox/Univision)
Wednesday, July 24: Semifinal at Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas (7:00 or 10:00 p.m., Fox Soccer/UniMás)
Sunday, July 28: Championship Game at Soldier Field, Chicago, Ill. (3:30 p.m., Fox/Univision)
Click here for the full schedule of games and venues. All games will be televised by Fox or Fox Soccer Channel in English and Univision, UniMás or Univision Deportes in Spanish. Many games will also be streamed online via those networks' respective websites.