CHESTER, Pa. – Jack McInerney didn’t dress for a single game in May.
It’s the end of June now, and the Philadelphia Union striker is headlining an offensive resurgence that has the Union thinking big for the second half of the MLS season.
On Saturday night at PPL Park, McInerney scored the game’s first two goals to lead the Union to a surprisingly lopsided 4-0 thrashing of Sporting Kansas City, one of the league’s top defensive teams.
It was the second straight start – and just the second of the season – for McInerney, who had fallen out of favor with ex-manager Peter Nowak and hadn’t scored since August of 2011.
HIGHLIGHTS: PHI 4, SKC 0
“Right now, [my confidence] is as high as it can be,” McInerney said. “It’s been a rough season for me but two starts and two goals feels good.”
When McInerney left the game in the 73rd minute, he received a standing ovation from Union fans and was greeted warmly by new head coach John Hackworth, who made it one of his first orders of business to insert the third-year striker into the starting lineup.
But despite his big night, McInerney wasn’t entirely content as he came off the pitch.
“I mean, it felt great and all,” he said. “But up 2-0 against a great team like Kansas City, they could come right back in a heartbeat. There was a lot of pressure off my shoulders, but I was still nervous I had to wait until the 90th minute came.”
As it turned out, McInerney’s brace was more than enough for the Union, who added goals from fellow strikers Lionard Pajoy and Antoine Hoppenot while shutting down the SKC attack en route to the three points.
In fact, it was the striker’s first goal – which came just one minute into the match – that set the tone and sent the Union well on the way to just their third win of the year. The goal came after Lionard Pajoy kept a ball alive and McInerney pounced on a sitter, narrowly beating SKC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen to the ball.
“I thought Nielsen was going to get to it,” McInerney said. “But I had to make the effort. Fortunately, the ball sat right there for me and I just toe-poked it.”
His second goal was also of the poaching variety as he buried a loose-ball rebound right before halftime. It’s what the 19-year-old striker says he does best: being at the right place at the right time.
“I’m not that fast, and I’m not that big,” McInerney said. “So I need to put myself in good spots. To get two sitters tonight shows what kind of forward I am.”
Remarkably, with six career goals, McInerney is now the Union’s active goals leader and is third all-time in franchise history.
And if he keeps scoring, you can be sure he won’t have to worry about watching games from the stands any longer.
“You can tell by his facial expressions after those goals how happy he was,” fellow 2010 first-round draft pick Amobi Okugo said. “I’m happy for him. It’s great he got rewarded to get the opportunity to play and then justify why he’s in the starting 11.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at email@example.com.