Image: Daniel Gajdamowicz
Jack McInerney waited.
Then he got his chance, and he took it. Then he took another, and another.
On Sunday he took number four, rising at the back post in the 90th minute and coolly nodding in the winner beyond the stranded Matt Reis.
Then he invented the McLeap.
Fluffy first to fine finish
From a first half of long balls and lost opportunities to a season-saving finish, the Philadelphia Union looked like a team with a lot of work still to do. With ample space in the midfield, the team insisted on searching for a killer ball instead of playing to their strengths and getting Michael Farfan into good positions up the pitch. McInerney and strike partner Antoine Hoppenot seemed to be playing some version of “horse,” taking turns copying each other’s runs like impeccably trained dolphins. Many who have watched the two young front men develop this season have harbored the fear that they would be incompatible together, both intent on vertical games and unwilling to yield to a calmer style of play.
John Hackworth said as much in post-game: “We got away from our game in the first half, dumping far too many balls and playing much too direct, which is not the way we play and not the way we train.”
Fans can be forgiven for expecting more of the same in the second half. Young players struggling to get involved often leads to pushing, trying too hard, forcing play.
Yet there was McInerney checking into the midfield. Now stepping wide to open a gap. Now playing back to goal and working one-twos with Michael Farfan. The player Peter Nowak branded as a last option became the first option for his midfielders, allowing them to step into the New England half by holding up play, creating spaces in front of the back line, and taking a cerebral approach to his position that few would have expected.
In short, it was awesome.
Call it karma
So when Mac found a channel down the left and out-hustled Kevin Alston to a through ball at the edge of the box, it was the result of more than just a good run. It was set up by a second half performances that reeked of growth and desire.
Sure, the penalty kick McInerney won wasn’t truly a penalty. But the caution he earned against Montreal for a dive wasn’t a dive. Thank goodness the absurdity of MLS officiating cuts both ways.
Winning the penalty was one thing. McInerney was still without a goal in four games, and Hackworth had begun tinkering with his options up top in the search for offense. Number nine needed the net.
Earlier in the match, flashes of the old McInerney surfaced when hesitated in the box and missed Hoppenot at the back post. The medicine ball he dropped back for Michael Farfan was played an indecisiveness that would qualify Mac for a spot on Andy Reed’s coaching staff.
Had McInerney been little more than a midseason spark plug? His teammates didn’t think so. And his coach didn’t either. NBC announced that Lionard Pajoy would enter the match for McInerney, only to see the numbers change and Hoppenot exit instead.
So there was Mac in the 90th minute, peeling off of Kevin Alston, riding the pressure like surfer ending his day on a low, lazy wave, then McLeaping into the River End, his face, arms and name obscured by hands, but his number still visible: 9.
The striker. And PSP’s Player of the Week.