CHESTER, Pa. — Philadelphia Union teenager Jack McInerney said he was caught a little bit by surprise when he saw his name in the starting lineup for this past Saturday’s game against the Rapids.
But he might want to get used to it.
With Carlos Ruiz away with the Guatemalan national team for the Gold Cup and Chris Agorsor currently looking for work elsewhere, McInerney will be an essential part of the Union attack for the next several games.
The 18-year-old is currently third on the striker depth chart behind Sébastien Le Toux and Danny Mwanga, and earned his first start of the season in a 1-1 draw at Colorado over the weekend.
“Going forward, I think we’ll have to use him,” Union assistant coach John Hackworth said. “We’ve used him a lot off the bench. Last weekend was his first chance to start, and now with Carlos gone, I think he’ll see some increased opportunities there.”
McInerney, a first-round pick out of high school in the 2010 SuperDraft, showed his scoring prowess during his rookie campaign, logging three goals in just 350 minutes.
He’s yet to notch a goal or an assist through 166 minutes this season, but could have easily had one in Colorado. Before coming out for Mwanga early in the second half, McInerney ran onto a Justin Mapp header, reached for a bouncing ball and poked it just over the net. Later, he put Le Toux on with a terrific through ball, but the Frenchman was thwarted by 'keeper Matt Pickens.
“I thought Jack had a productive, efficient start,” Hackworth said. “Although he didn’t score — and everyone looks at that as a measuring stick as to strikers having a good game — he actually played pretty well. He did the things we were asking him about.”
When asked to give his own assessment, McInerney said he thought he combined well with Le Toux up top, even though the two aren’t paired up together much in training.
“It’s tough to get a feeling just going out and playing one time with each other,” McInerney said. “But for the first game, I thought we played pretty well together.”
Of course, McInerney would have preferred to score his first goal in his first start, and the youngster was especially hard on himself for not finishing on the header from Mapp.
Still, he recognizes that, especially now, there will be plenty of chances to earn playing time and that he can impress team manager Peter Nowak in other ways.
“That’s what I’m hoping for,” the second-year striker said. “It was good to get the first start and hopefully I made a good impression on him.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.