Three for Thursday: Why the Jack McInerney-Chicharito comparison might be on the mark
About a month ago, MLSsoccer.com "Armchair Analyst" Matthew Doyle dropped an ear-catching comparison on March to the March podcast, calling Philadelphia Union striker Jack McInerney "The American Chicharito."
It wasn't as crazy as it sounded, as Doyle based his comparison on the similar skillset the 20-year-old shares with the Manchester United and Mexico star (more that later). And though he followed it up with an, "Obviously, he's not as good as Chicharito," (true), it got me thinking – that may not be the case for long.
Delving into their so far brief careers yields some striking similarities in not only their goalscoring totals, but patterns, too, which if they hold, could be good news for the US national team. And that's without even mentioning the similar type of game the two play.
So while McInerney has shrugged off the Chicharito comparisons – "I play like Jack," he says, and rightly so – it is impossible not to notice the similarities between the two:
1) Take a look at the numbers
We're not going to go digging into the depths of the OPTA stat vault right now, but with poachers like McInerney and Javier "Chicharito" Hernández, goals paint a pretty good picture.
Hernández debuted for the Chivas Guadalajara senior side in 2006, at age 18, and went on to score 26 goals in 64 appearances over four four years with Chivas before transferring to Manchester United in the summer of 2010. He never really found his goalscoring form until 2009, though, with his debut goal the only one he scored until nearly three years later.
Now take McInerney – he debuted in March 2010, at age 17, and had scored three goals by season's end. Like Chicharito, he struggled in his sophomore season, scoring just once, but enjoyed a breakout 2012, scoring eight goals.
Today, at age 20 and in his fourth MLS season, he has 18 goals in 67 games (though only 30 starts). It's a slightly lower goalscoring rate than Chicharito, but McInerney is also a full year younger than the Little Pea was when he entered his fourth – and also his breakout – season in Mexico.
So keep a close eye on the young Philadelphia Union striker this year – if he truly is a player in the same vein as Chicharito, his six goals in seven appearances so far in 2013 may be less a fluke and much more a sign of things to come.
2) They've got the tools
Forget that one got his start in the Mexican first division and now plays in the EPL, and the other is launching his career in MLS. Look at the two players and you'll notice some striking similarities in their games, as Doyle observed.
They're a similar size (McInerney, at 5-foot-10, is an inch taller than Hernández), and both of them have shown over the recent years that uncanny instinct for goal. Chicharito's goals for Chivas, Mexico and Manchester United are a perfect example of that, and you'll see similar qualities in McInerney's game – an ability to run the lanes, take the right touch and time that perfect little burst of acceleration. The goal he scored against D.C. United (top) last weekend is a perfect example of all those traits coming together.
This is also what sets McInerney apart from some of the other top American strikers in the league. They have some of those qualities, but not necessarily all of them, especially not combined with the speed/acceleration factor. He does not quite necessarily have the "spring" that Chicharito has in his game, but his slightly bigger build can go far in compensating for that.
3) The national team question
"But wait," you might insist. "Chicharito is halfway to legendary status for the Mexican national team, and McInerney hasn't even played for the US!"
Take a step back for a minute. Chicharito, after scoring once in two appearances for the Mexican U-20s, made his debut for the senior national team in September 2009, a few months after he turned 21. McInerney, who scored in his only U-20 appearance (though had a very fruitful run at the U-17 level), turns 21 this August and could get a look from Jurgen Klinsmann before then.
The US national team head coach told media on Wednesday to expect an MLS-heavy Gold Cup squad, and it's difficult to think the coach could overlook McInerney at the forward if he keeps scoring at anywhere near this kind of clip. Based on current form and national team showings, there's no other forward in MLS save perhaps for Eddie Johnson that I'd rather have on the Gold Cup team.
If he does get the call for July's tournament and ends up taking the field, he'll have made his national team debut at a younger age than Hernández did. And given Klinsmann's willingness to reward MLSers who perform well in places like the January camp and likely the Gold Cup, a successful tournament summer could just be the first of many big things for the youngster.