Analysis

Here’s why Philadelphia traded Jack McInerney

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.

Sound familiar?

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.

32 Comments

  1. Good insight in this article and I agree on many points. I’m a little disappointed for the 2014 season because Jack Mac can finish and the team needs to score more goals. Overall, not very surprised by this trade, but we better resign Okugo.

  2. Nice read guys, pretty much what most of us expected, except the piece about the contract being paid by Montreal. This will be easy to swallow as long as jack doesn’t rack it up this year and we still can’t score.

  3. OneManWolfpack says:

    Yeah we have to resign Okugo and keep Noguiera next year as well.
    .
    Now that I’ve had some time to digest, I am really not that mad at this trade. It was done with a lot of thought, and with an eye to continue to be able to go forward and not get stuck or have to make a stupid deal out of necessity. With the offseason acquisitions, I am willing to give he FO the benefit of the doubt on this one and see what develops. I agree that it stings, but when you pull off the band-aid, the sting usually goes away pretty quick.

  4. I think the Union have matured past Jack. What I mean can be paralleled to the other football in town and the radical transformation the Eagles underwent last year. The U are/will be better. With the team’s new maturity and skill we don’t need an undersized and talented but petulant child. Sounds like another face of the franchise player recently and ubruptly shipped out of town, no?

    Unlike the Jackson drop, we got something in return, at an early crossroads when scoring is an issue.
    But now is better than later when either
    A) he doesn’t score and the team languishes as a result. His attitude certainly wouldn’t help this situation
    B) he’s a machine like last season’s first half and we make this same, unpopular decision based on money.

    We begged for changes last season when we saw the same lineup week after week. I’d rather mix it up now than week 12 when precious points have been squandered.

    That aside: a nice, rational piece, Dan. Thanks

  5. I can’t believe you traded my lazy cousin Hardly Hustle!

  6. James Lockerbie says:

    First Good Luck Jack!

    Now, Soccer more than any other professional sport moves players around, it happens all the time. We should recognize good players and enjoy their successes while they are on our team. It’s the Union we support!

    if you enjoyed jack you can still keep an eye on him as he matures through his soccer career. I am sure, I will check in from time to time

  7. I like McInerney, and I think he is a great striker. However he is not worth DP money right now, and he hasn’t shown enough to prove that he is. $400,000 is just to much.

  8. Good report Dan. I’ve always felt that McInerney was no more the a piece of a puzzle but not the all-round go to guy for the Union. He is a good poacher but the cold hard truth about poachers is that they run hot and cold. He does not have ability to take on players 1 v 1 to make space for himself, If he ever develops that part of his game look out! Andrew Wenger is a good move going forward. He has a tremendous upside. McInerney’s immaturity and petulance was potentially poison on the team. In my humble opinion this is a win win with the Union with the eventually getting the better of the deal. Look at the moves this team has made already. I’m not completely on board with Hackworth as a coach yet but I have liked his personnel moves thus far.

  9. Agree with everything and yet can’t help but wonder if his “petulance” would’ve been tolerated for two more seasons had he continued his blinding form from the first half of 2013 into the second.

    • Dan Walsh says:

      It absolutely would have. When it comes down to it, what some call petulance is also flat out honesty. There’s a lot to like about that in McInerney. He’s a great guy to interview because he gives you no BS at all. To me, he really fits Philly well.

    • Dan Walsh says:

      And by the way, I’ve tweaked the post to replace that word “petulant” with “frustrated”. “Petulant” is the word many fans have used, but it also carries a stronger negative connotation than I mean to give. I think Mac just says and does what he thinks, and that’s that.

    • Absolutely but to a point. “If” Jack had continued scoring then you try all you can to sign him. However, would he want to stay with the Union or would Europe spirit him away anyway? If the Union signed him could they sign Okugo? McInereny opened this can of worms with his comments during the off season and with his subsequent behavior. Hopefully McInereny’s histrionics wouldn’t have become Balotelli like but who knows? Also with his scoring ability, has Jack proven that he can score when the heat is on? Can he adjust and help himself? I’m not convinced and he has not continued with that blinding form in the first half of 2013. I don’t it really puts him in a position to start making demands or gesturing at his teammates. He’s had a lot of chances to score and hasn’t.

  10. Sean Sachs says:

    Good article with many great points that make it fairly clear that this was a smart and quite possibly necessary move. The one line that I keep seeing that I cannot quite wrap my mind around is this idea of McInerney playing in Europe. Bobby Wood who arguably has a much better skill set currently sits in 4th striker spot in the 1860 Munchen lineup. Boyd can’t secure a starting spot at Rapid Wien. Given Jack’s form since the Gold Cup sitting on the bench at Accrington Stanley would seem to be a likely destination.

  11. phillyboy1 says:

    Great article. keep up the good work!!

  12. Looking at the trade from the perspectives of the two players involved, it seems that Wenger will get more minutes this year but JM will get fewer. The pressure will be on JM to produce in 2015. Good luck to him. I hope it works out.

  13. I understand moving Jack, but the reason why I hate this trade is simply because I don’t think Wenger is very good. Reports out of MTL aren’t great, and chances are he is another college export that has poor touch, terrible ball skills and no soccer sense.

    Atleast we KNOW Jack has a soccer IQ. He has the same skill set as Wondo at like 8 years younger.

    • Sean Doyle says:

      James, I’m sorry to say that reports out of Montreal aren’t exactly accurate.

      From watching Wenger and being around him during his time at Reading United, he’s got tremendous soccer IQ and reads a game very well. He’s versatile, strong and has a tremendous motor. If you have the chance, go back and watch the FC Dallas-Impact match. Wenger was superb in that match.

      I’d also add in that Andrew’s very humble and displays tremendous personal character. Taken as a whole, I’d say you have a major win for the Union.

  14. It was understood that Jack had certain gang affiliations. He was a member of Webelos Troop 700 in his youth. Watch for his three finger salutes in highlight videos. He was close to getting a woodworking badge with his friends from around the way. I am sure there will be a NJ.com article soon. LeToux, when asked to comment noted “he was making all kinds of crazy knots around the clubhouse. It was just too much.”

  15. How does Edu’s eventual return to Europe factor into the financial situation…can’t imagine him staying with the U past this year which frees up DP money they could have used to resign Jack or am I missing something?

    • I think the Union have said they want to make the Edu loan a permanent transfer. Between him and Amobi, this Jack move was really a financial necessity.

    • I think they have an option to buy Edu at the end of the season as part of the loan deal.

  16. JediLos117 says:

    A lot of talk is focused on Wenger slotting into McInerney’s spot as automatic…but don’t be surprised to see Le Toux not only take back the #9 shirt but also his lone forward role.
    .
    And it will work.

  17. I like a bigger guy in the middle. Jack is good but i think everybody else will get goals once Casey plays consistently. Casey can hold the ball and let Le toux, Miadana, and the rest get some shots.

  18. Great article Dan. Only thing I am not on board with is your comment that Jack is better than most give him credit. I think it’s the other way around….you think he is better than he really is….I guess time will tell. Jack should have a long career in front of him and a good opportunity with Montreal next season to show us we got it wrong. It all comes down to value and I guess Hack doesn’t see the value in Jack next year.

  19. serge levesque-tabarnak says:

    came around to see what the deal was with Jack, no one in Mtl can figure out why he was traded for Wenger.
    Which makes your #3 really funny.
    It reads as someone who hasnt seen Wenger play or practice much over the past 3 years.
    You’d be hard pressed to find a Mtl fan who thinks Wenger is worth more than a bag of balls
    Arriving a few months into his first season for his degree didnt endear him to fans right off the bat.

    He might turn out to be a good player but honestly I dont see him as a target man and even less on the wing. He’s neither quick, not extremely technical, impressive in the air while not being bad in any facet. Jack of all trades, master of none.

    But he was a good guy and no one hated him (ok, theyd swear his name when he’d miss a sitter), so there isnt any anymosity towards him.

    Then again, Ive rarely seen a keeper as bad at coming out and figuring out angles as Donovan Ricketts when he was in Mtl. And from what I hear he’s doing well on the west coast. So player do react differently in diffrent systems and atmosphere.

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