Philadelphia Union's Jack McInerney returns, but John Hackworth holds off on declaring him starter

Jack McInerney, Philadelphia Union

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CHESTER, Pa. – Jack Mac is back.

But does that mean the Philadelphia Union will immediately plug him back into the starting lineup following his three-week sojourn with the US national team for the Gold Cup?

Union manager John Hackworth isn’t so sure, saying earlier this week that he’d need to talk to leading scorer Jack McInerney before Saturday’s game against the Portland Timbers (7:30 pm ET, watch on MLS Live) at PPL Park to see where he’s at both mentally and physically.

Friday’s training session marked McInerney’s first day back with the Union since flying to San Diego to join the US national team on July 1.

“That just means we have another great option,” Hackworth said. “We have a lot of tough choices to make this week. I think that’s a good thing for the coaching staff to have some selection problems.”

Before getting called up to the USMNT, McInerney had started 16 straight games for the Union, playing a full 90 minutes in most of them and scoring 10 goals.

The Union went 1-1-1 in his absence, while McInerney failed to earn his first senior national team cap. The 20-year-old striker, along with three other players, was dropped from the roster for the knockout stages of the Gold Cup.

Hackworth said he was surprised to see those changes made, mainly because in his past experiences with US national teams, the rosters for tournaments always remained the same.

But the Union manager was nevertheless happy that McInerney got a taste of US boss Jurgen Klinsmann’s training sessions, even if the young forward didn’t get the chance to play in any games.

“I talked to Jurgen about this before Jack left and it was more about Jack getting the experience,” Hackworth said. “To come in with the team, to be around their staff – I always value that part of the process very much. I’ve been communicating with Jack and I think Jack understands why he was there and what the goal was the entire time.

“I think if they would have had the opportunity to get him into a game, they would have. But from what I know, he was excellent in training, his attitude was great and he was very humble.”

One thing is for certain: his teammates in Philly are glad to see McInerney back, especially leading up to Saturday’s contest against a very good Portland squad. And they think McInerney will be able to pick up right where he left off.

“It’s a big game and I know he’s itching to play,” Union right back Sheanon Williams said. “I know it’s been tough on him not getting a chance to get in any of the [US] games.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.