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Philadelphia Union coach John Hackworth defends decision to keep Jack McInerney out of starting lineup

Jack McInerney, Philadelphia Union

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CHESTER, Pa. – This past Sunday, for the first time since the season opener, Philadelphia Union manager John Hackworth opted to bring star striker Jack McInerney off the bench rather than start him.

Considering McInerney is the team’s leading scorer and the club’s only 2013 all-star, it was a move that certainly raised some eyebrows.

And it might not even be one-time decision.

When asked if McInerney will return to the starting lineup for Saturday’s game against the Montreal Impact at PPL Park (7:30 pm ET, watch on MLS Live), Hackworth hedged.

“We’ll see,” the Union manager said. “There’s some competition in training right now. Antoine [Hoppenot] is playing well, Jack’s playing well, Seba [Le Toux] had a good run when he was up there and he obviously creates some goal-scoring opportunities. We’ll just have to see.”

Despite leading the team with 10 goals, McInerney hasn’t found the back of the net since June 1, a drought that’s quickly approaching three months. And it’s no secret that the 21-year-old hasn’t been in top form since returning from the Gold Cup, where he made the US national team roster but failed to see any game action.

But despite the scoreless streak, Hackworth has said time and again over the past few weeks that he’s been happy with the work McInerney has been putting in on top. The main reason for not starting him Sunday was because Hackworth decided to go with a five-man midfield and use Conor Casey as the team's lone striker in the first half against New England.

“We made a tactical decision,” Hackworth said. “It also meant that Jack didn’t have the pressure of being a starter and some of the pressure that’s been external of not scoring a goal.”

McInerney ended up coming on for the final 14 minutes of Sunday’s 5-1 loss to the Revolution, but by then the game was already well out of hand.

For what it's worth, Hackworth said he told McInerney of his plans not to start him early in the week and that the striker “took it really well.” The Union manager also said he’s not concerned about McInerney getting down on himself or losing confidence, even if he doesn’t start again this weekend.

“Jack’s a tough kid,” Hackworth said. “I don’t worry about that. I think if our staff felt that he wasn’t playing well and we felt there was a problem, we would feel much differently. But that’s not the case.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.