OBETZ, Ohio – Just three weeks into his time with Columbus Crew SC, Jack McInerney is already making a difference.
The striker was a second half substitute in the club’s win over Sporting Kansas City last Saturday, scoring the game-winning third goal in a wild 3-2 comeback. McInerney tapped in an open-net rebound from a Federico Higuain shot, showcasing his best attribute – he knows how to get to the right place at the right time.
“I’ve been watching the team play for a while now and I know the style,” he said. “They get the ball into the box a lot and it ends up in places where nobody is there. I knew when Pipa got it in that position I had to give myself a chance. Luckily, the goalie put it right in front of me.”
McInerney was confident in his ability to finish, especially with the ball “right in front” of him. But so were his teammates, who know he’s a capable option, especially off the bench.
“When you’re a poacher and you’ve done it for years, it doesn’t matter what system you play in,” Crew SC midfielder Ethan Finlay said.
In Columbus, McInerney has found a new environment. He’s in a locker room with “a bunch of jokesters,” one of the best of which he's been a part, he says. Sitting behind the league’s scoring leader in Kei Kamara, McInerney also doesn’t suffer the pressure of being the answer in Columbus.
But perhaps the best part of the forward’s transition has been coming into a winning atmosphere with Crew SC, something unfamiliar to McInerney during his MLS career.
“You’re coming to a team that’s had a lot of success and is playing well,” he said. “That’s the most important thing for me right now – I want to be on a winning team. Everything is just so much better. The locker room, coming to training every day, it makes everything better. I haven’t been a part of a winning team yet, so I think that was what was the most exciting thing for me.”
And in that winning environment, Crew SC head coach and sporting director Gregg Berhalter hinted at having more confidence in McInerney than previous coaches have shown.
“You want coaches that are behind you,” he said. “I’m not saying he hasn’t had that, but we certainly believe he’s a great piece to our system and can fit in really well. The rest is up to him. I know it gets frustrating, not getting the minutes you’d like to get. But the most you can do is take advantage of your opportunities. He’s certainly done that.”
Kamara’s record-chasing season has eased expectations for McInerney in Columbus. Now, he’s focused on watching, learning and improving himself.
“Any forward would love to play with this team,” he said. “There are so many balls whipped in, and it’s an easy possession style where you just have to put yourself in good positions. Teammates have made it really easy for Kei this year, and that’s why he’s had so much success. So I’m just kind of watching him and seeing the positions he’s getting into and the movements he’s making to create and get all these chances. It’s fun to watch.”
But McInerney isn’t relaxing. He says he puts as much pressure on himself as he always has. He’ll likely get a chance to show his worth next weekend, when Kamara is gone on Sierra Leone national team duty. And if he gets the chance, McInerney says he’ll be ready.
“I want to work hard in training every day and get on the field,” he said. “It’s just more about making my game better and then when I get those opportunities to get on the field, affect the game in a positive way for the team.”