Jack McInerney has something to prove with Timbers: "I'm not even close to my prime"

Jack McInerney in Portland Timbers training kit, preseason 2016

For a player who has appeared in close to 150 matches over the course of a six-year MLS career, you'd think anything but a starter's spot wouldn't necessarily sit well.

But in the case of Portland Timbers striker Jack McInerney, who joins an MLS Cup championship club whereFanendo Adi is firmly entrenched as the starting striker, he still believes there will be plenty of minutes to go around as exemplified by the 60 appearances in two seasons for the Timbers forward who McInerney is replacing: Maximiliano Urruti.

“I wouldn’t have signed here if I didn’t think I would have a bigger role than I’ve had in the past,” McInerney told MLSsoccer.com in a phone interview from the Timbers’ preseason camp in Tucson, Arizona. “If you look at the stats from [Maximiliano] Urruti last year, he started in [12] games in the league, and they have Open Cup and [CONCACAF] Champions League, so there’s going to be plenty of opportunities for me to play.”

Since 2013, when he scored a career-high 12 goals and registered career highs in starts (25) and appearances (31) for the Philadelphia Union, McInerney had mostly been a first-choice player. But that changed last year: McInerney scored four goals in 17 games (13 starts) with the Montreal Impact last season before being traded to Columbus, where he started just twice in five games. 

Regardless of the his recent past, Timbers head coach Caleb Porter is expecting a lot from McInerney, a player he coached with the 2012 US U-23 Olympic qualifying team.

“I want to have not one starting striker, but multiple. And with Urruti, I had two starting strikers, and they were both different and they brought different things to the game,” Porter told MLSsoccer.com. “… Maxi was still used as a starting player in certain league games, whether it was squad rotation or whether it was a tactical decision or it was an injury or suspension. So with Jack, he’s going to get plenty of time and opportunities.”

He certainly made the most of one of his first with his new squad, scoring two goals in Portland’s second preseason match, a 2-1 win Feb. 6 over the Seattle Sounders.

“I thought it was great for Jack to get those two goals and the way he took those two goals,” Porter said. “The first one was – I mean that was a quality finish, and that shows the type of box striker that he is. And for him to get a couple goals, it gives him that confidence and hopefully that leads to more.”

If Adi is a sizable target striker, adept at holding up the ball and allowing attackers to make runs off him, McInerney is a “box striker,” as Porter puts it. With McInerney lurking in the opponent's penalty area and making runs behind the defense, he gives the Timbers a different look and makes them less predictable.

Porter said that like Urruti – whose option was declined by Portland before we he was acquired by FC Dallas in the Re-Entry Draft – McInerney gives him options. The Timbers manager can use McInerney as a late-game spark, as a depth player for US Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League runs, as well as a starter in certain tactical situations or in cases where squad turnover is necessary.

“He’s certainly shown his quality in those two goals, and that’s certainly why we signed him because he can go and find goals,” Porter said in reference to McInerney's preseason tallies.

The Timbers newcomer is also welcoming the chance to being a part of an MLS Cup championship side and the opportunity to grow as a player under the well-respected Porter. And Porter admitted that McInerney is still adjusting to the “high tempo” and “sharp intensity” of his training sessions.

“I still have a lot to learn; I’m not even close to my prime, and I think there’s some growing up to do on the field,” McInerney said. “”But I’m excited to be a part of this team and have the opportunity to win another championship with this team. But I think there will be a little bit of growing pains for me in the preseason and a little bit throughout the year. But I have the opportunity to play and win, and that’s what I’m excited about.”

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.