MLSsoccer.com polled 20 of our editors, writers, videographers and statistics specialists to bring you the Best of 2012, running Dec. 17 through Jan. 2. Each day we'll hand out an award in a variety of categories culled from the storylines of MLS and US international players, including Biggest Controversy, Breakout Player of the Year and, via fan vote, the Moment of the Year.
Editor-in-Chief Greg Lalas gets the job of looking into the future and explain the appeal of Philadelphia's Jack McInerney, the player our panel voted to be the Breakthrough Player of 2013.
Once the U-17 international fills out some, improves his finishing technique, and acclimatizes to the adult world of professional soccer, he has the potential to be one of the most devastating assassins the U.S. has ever produced. . . . He has the potential to be a world-class striker. No doubt. Just not next year. Or the one after that. He needs time.
Well, we've given him time. And now, if you ask us, he's ready to be devastating.
In his third pro season in 2012, Jack Mac showed why his potential is becoming more and more his reality. He posted career highs in goals (8), assists (3), appearances (25), and starts (18). Notably, all of his starts and goals came after the firing of Peter Nowak in mid-June, as McInerney became an integral part of the Philly offense under Hackworth.
A talented youth international, McInerney has always had an innate ability to find space and make tantalizing runs. Since going pro, he has filled out, developed his tactics, and honed his finishing skills. His late winner against the New England Revolution in late July typified his progess: movement off the ball and a deadly strike.
Still only 20, McInerney now is the centerpiece of a young, up-and-coming Union side. The addition of veteran Conor Casey and the return of fan favorite Sebastien Le Toux could reduce McInerney’s playing time. He even admitted he was “a little disappointed” to see the competition arrive.
But Hackworth doesn’t seem concerned.
“We think [McInerney] is the future,” Hackworth told MLSsoccer.com recently. “We think adding Conor and Sébastien is going to make Jack better.”
Hackworth is right. Not playing McInerney would be a mistake. In fact, playing as a second forward under an accomplished targetman like Casey would put McInerney in the perfect position to take advantage of his talents. His style is reminiscent of Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski, and like Wondo, Jack Mac just needs someone to show him the faith to let him thrive.
“Next year is not the make or break year for McInerney,” ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman told me. “But it could be the springboard to being a very special forward in this league. He could easily score 12 to 15 goals, year in and year out.”
2. Luis Silva, Toronto FC
Narrowly missing out on 2012 Rookie of the Year, the midfielder was one of the few bright spots in a very dark year in Toronto. He's a pure playmaker, with big determination to succeed and an equally big smile. If the recently revamped TFC front office does the smart thing and builds the team around him, everyone at BMO Field could be smiling all the way to the playoffs.
3. Gershon Koffie, Vancouver Whitecaps
In his second season, the 21-year-old midfielder repeated the playing stats from his rookie year (29 appearances, 28 starts), but upped his effectiveness immensely. Three goals and two assists were only a hint of what he's capable of. If Vancouver acquire a consistent scorer -- they ranked 17th in MLS in goals scored last season -- Koffie's playmaking skills could make him one of the most dangerous weapons in the league.