Why did the Philadelphia Union trade a franchise original, their most prolific goalscorer and one of the most exciting young American soccer players?
For John Hackworth, it all came down to tactics and long-term contract implications.
That’s how the Union manager explained his rationale behind dealing Jack McInerney to the Montreal Impact for Andrew Wenger in Friday’s stunning blockbuster.
“Right now, we see it as a straight swap – forward for forward,” Hackworth said on a conference call from the airport, just before his team flew to Chicago for Saturday’s game against the Fire (5 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
“[Wenger] is more of a prototypical No. 9 than Jack was or is. That’s where we see him. But he is versatile enough, which we really like. You could put him on the left or right, or drop him into the midfield, and he’d be effective.”
McInerney, on the other hand, is viewed strictly as a center forward, which has handcuffed Hackworth as he’s employed his favored 4-3-3 formation and tries to ease veteran striker Conor Casey back into the lineup.
On top of that, McInerney’s future with the team was cloudy as the 21-year-old striker is nearing the end of his contract. Wenger, meanwhile, has two years left on his deal followed by two more option years, according to Hackworth.
“I would tell you, yes, that’s part of it,” Hackworth said of McInerney’s contract situation factoring into the trade. “It’s not that I don’t think we could have signed Jack to another contract. But it certainly presents another set of problems when a player is at the end of a contract and you know what you’re going to have to do to retain that player’s rights.”
Hackworth was also asked if McInerney’s streakiness played a role in the deal. When he was at his best, as he was for the end of the 2012 season and the beginning of the 2013 season, McInerney had the ability to carry the Union on his back. But after getting called up to the US national team for the Gold Cup and making the MLS All-Star game last summer, his productively sharply declined and his team suffered because of it.
But even as the Union have struggled to score through the first four games this season, Hackworth said there was “no sense of desperation” to try to shake things up.
“We weren’t disappointed in the way Jack was playing,” Hackworth said. “Clearly, we have an idea of where we want to go and the type of players we want to bring in. We felt like this was a move that would improve that – it’s as simple as that.”
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While it seems unlikely Wenger can replace the 12 goals McInerney scored last season, Hackworth is optimistic that the top overall pick in the 2012 SuperDraft can provide a much-needed boost to the team’s sagging offense.
Wenger, who hails from the Philadelphia area, will be available when the Union return home to face Real Salt Lake on April 12 (following a suspension he’s serving for, interestingly enough, a red card he picked up in last week’s game against Philly).
Said Hackworth, “I think he has an opportunity to be a starter immediately.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.