CHESTER, Pa. – In the Philadelphia Union’s five-year history, few players have ever made the kind of impression on the city that Jack McInerney did.
A Union original, McInerney broke out in the beginning of the 2013 season, when he chased the MLS Budweiser Golden Boot, earned his first US national team call-up and made the AT&T MLS All-Star Game.
But, after suffering through a huge scoring drought, the young striker was traded to Montreal earlier this year and hasn’t been back to PPL Park since – until Saturday when the Union host the Impact (7 pm ET, MLS LIVE) in what’s sure to be an interesting reunion.
“Jack’s a very competitive player,” Union midfielder Amobi Okugo said. “And he likes to prove his point with his play. He’s not going to go to the press and say this or that. He’s just going to try to prove it. And it’s our job to not let that happen.”
One of McInerney’s best friends while he was in Philly and a fellow Union original, Okugo has already been trading some barbs over texts with McInerney leading up to the game.
And he’s ready to talk a little more trash in person Saturday.
“It will be fun,” Okugo said. “It was his birthday a couple of days ago. Zac’s [MacMath] birthday was [Thursday]. So when they get in Friday, we’ll all get dinner. And then in the game, I’ll probably give him a couple of birthday tackles just to let him know we’re here.”
The Union have already played against McInerney once – a 1-0 loss at Stade Saputo on April 26 – so they don’t expect that seeing him at PPL Park will be especially weird. Their biggest concern is figuring out how to slow down the 22-year-old striker, who’s scored six goals for Montreal since the trade.
One of those players that could be asked to stop him is ex-teammate Carlos Valdes, who returned from his one-and-a-half-year loan stint earlier this week. But Union interim manager Jim Curtin wouldn’t reveal if Valdes would start in his first game back and, if he does, whether or not that means Maurice Edu, fresh off an All-Star game appearance, returns to the midfield.
“He’s a guy who was in Philadelphia for a while,” Curtin said of McInerney. “He makes good runs and we know what he’s about. He only needs one look. He’s a handful.”
Regardless of who’s playing up top for them, the Union have struggled against Montreal, sporting a 1-4-2 record against the Impact since 2012. Facing a player looking to avenge a trade and make his old city remember him again only adds to Philly’s challenge, even if the Impact have lost six straight games heading into Saturday’s contest.
“I’m sure he has a little extra motivation to do well,” Union defender Sheanon Williams said. “Any time you get traded, you always want to go back to the place you got started and try to prove something. I’m sure he’ll be out here trying to score. And I’m sure he’s got some kind of celebration planned out.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.