Photo: Mike Long
Here’s why Philadelphia Union traded Jack McInerney to Montreal today in a shock deal for Andrew Wenger.
1) McInerney was going to cost more than the Union want to pay him.
McInerney made clear during the offseason that he was unlikely to return to the Union once his contract expired, telling MLS Transfers, “Unless they came to me with something a good bit up there, I wouldn’t take it.”
Union manager John Hackworth got the message. “There were going to be some long-term implications of whether Jack was going to be here long term or not,” he said Friday during a teleconference.
McInerney’s contract expires at season’s end. His contract has an option year that Philadelphia could have exercised, but it would hike his salary to near Designated Player level (around $400,000) next year. Montreal plans to exercise the option, according to Montreal sporting director Nick De Santis, as they expect Marco Di Vaio to retire at season’s end.
The Union already have two designated players in Maurice Edu and Cristian Maidana, and Vincent Nogueira’s salary will likely reach DP level next year. With Amobi Okugo in a contract situation similar to McInerney, a DP-level deal for McInerney would have tied up a lot of the salary cap.
Absent a renegotiated long-term deal for a lower salary, Philadelphia had to take McInerney at that price or possibly watch him leave for Europe on free transfer.
In trading McInerney now, Philadelphia gets something in return, rather than let him leave for nothing at season’s end if he pursues opportunities in Europe. And they’ll likely save money in the long term.
2) Montreal is almost certainly picking up part of Andrew Wenger’s salary.
I asked Hackworth about this point blank Friday during his teleconference with media. He said he could not discuss the deal’s financial details, which is not unusual. But then he added that this silence was part of the agreement with Montreal. Now THAT is unusual.
It probably means Montreal will pay a chunk of Wenger’s salary, which was $120,000 last year. Realistically, that’s probably necessary to balance this deal out, and Hackworth has shown repeatedly that he understands quite well how the league salary cap works. Wenger was the 2012 draft’s first pick, and his contract likely calls for significant annual salary increases.
Wenger has two years left on his contract, as well as multiple options, Hackworth said. Long term, that makes him a safer investment than McInerney.
3) Wenger may fit the Union’s new offense better in the long term.
McInerney is a good goal-scorer, but he is not a target forward, which is what many 4-3-3 attacks feature. Wenger would play that role in the Union’s system, Hackworth said.
“He is more of a prototypical No. 9 than Jack was or is,” Hackworth said. “That’s where we see him. But he is versatile enough, which we really like. You could put him on the left or right, or drop him into the midfield, and he’d be effective.”
4) The Union wanted Wenger long before this.
Philadelphia inquired about Wenger on draft day earlier this year, only to be rejected. He is a former Reading United player, which means the Union have good inside knowledge on him. Hackworth has been following Wenger since he was a youth center midfielder. Suffice to say, he likes him.
And why shouldn’t he?
Wenger was talented enough to be the No. 1 player drafted two years ago. He is viewed as a high-character player who delayed in joining Montreal full-time so he could complete his degree at Duke. (Read some of his writings here.) He is also a local guy, having grown up in the Lancaster area.
Further, he has rarely gotten extended minutes to show what he can do, similar to McInerney’s situation under Peter Nowak. Wenger could flourish like McInerney did once Hackworth gave him the chance.
Wenger scored in his first two starts in MLS, back in 2012. He injured his hamstring in his third. Wenger returned from injury two months later, scored in his first start back, but then didn’t get another start for two months because Montreal had signed the league’s best scorer, Di Vaio, in Wenger’s absence. Wenger has started just 18 games in two years.
5) McInerney’s behavior rubbed some the wrong way.
There are only so many times you can show up your teammates in front of 20,000 fans. McInerney has become fairly well-known for his frustrated,* demonstrative gestures when teammates fail to find him on open runs. It was understandable to do it with last year’s midfield mess. It’s quite another to show up Vincent Nogueira, as McInerney did last week. (And perhaps wrongly, as some have noted.)
It’s pure speculation to suggest this contributed to the trade.
But things like this and his open talk about leaving Philadelphia don’t look good. In a PSP poll in January, 84% of voters said that, if they could only sign one of Okugo and McInerney, they would choose Okugo. McInerney’s behavior (along with his cold spell, obviously) was certainly part of why.
Yet, in a town that prides itself on its straightforwardness, McInerney’s blunt candor and heart-on-his-sleeve style often made him often seem perfect for Philadelphia.
Has Philadelphia improved with this trade?
No. Not yet, at least. That could change over time.
Wenger has proved little at this level, stuck behind Di Vaio and cycling through three managers in three seasons. He is more versatile and athletic than McInerney, and his pure talent ceiling could be higher.
But few can match McInerney’s instinct for the goal, and in the end, soccer is about scoring goals. McInerney is just 21 years old. He hasn’t reached his full potential yet. You can talk about his cold spell last year all you want, but McInerney has netted three goals and an assist in his last seven games. McInerney sees the runs that nobody else sees, and things like that don’t show up on a stat sheet. He is a proven quantity right now, and he is better than people realize. He is the perfect successor to Di Vaio.
It will be a while before we know who got the better of this deal, but McInerney’s departure should sting Union fans.
Just like that, another Union original is gone.