CHESTER, Pa. – Nobody is happier with the Philadelphia Union’s new-look midfield than Jack McInerney.
Starting up top in the Union’s 4-3-3 formation, the 21-year-old striker has meshed well so far with offseason acquisitions Maurice Edu, Vincent Nogueira and Cristian Maidana, scoring the team’s only goal in the opener and playing another strong game in Philly’s 1-0 win over New England on Saturday.
“It makes it fun for me because I can stay up top and do my thing and let them move the ball underneath and create opportunities for me,” McInerney told MLSsoccer.com. “It’s still a work in progress but it’s been fun playing with them.”
In the past, McInerney has said he prefers to be the second striker in a 4-4-2 formation, where he can work off the other forward and try to do what he does best: find open space and poach goals. But this formation has worked well for him, he said, because the two wingers play high enough where they can help him put pressure on the defense, while also alleviating some of his own defensive responsibilities.
Perhaps the best part for McInerney is the on-field chemistry he’s already created with the new midfielders, even if two of them – Maidana and Nogueira – don’t yet speak much English.
“When you step on the field, you’re still playing the same game,” McInerney said. “Nothing changes. They’ve played at some of the top leagues around the world and they know what it takes to win and score goals.”
The looming question now for the Union is whether McInerney’s role will change once Conor Casey returns from a calf strain injury that’s kept him out of Philly’s first two games, as well as much of the preseason.
For what it's worth, McInerney said he enjoyed playing alongside Casey last season -- and the Union benefited from that partnership too, with the strikers combining to score 22 goals.
But unless Union manager John Hackworth goes back to the 4-4-2 formation he utilized for much of last season, it might be difficult for him to start both McInerney and Casey.
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“I know Hack said before he can see me and Conor getting on the field at the same time,” McInerney said. “But I don’t know how he plans on doing it.”
So what if it does come down to McInerney and Casey competing for the same starting spot?
“It will make us both better just because both of us want to be on the same field,” McInerney said diplomatically. “And whether he’s on the field or I’m on the field, it’s good for the team.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.