MONTREAL – It was supposed to be just another ordinary practice for Jack McInerney, until he was abruptly pulled aside and given the news that he had been traded to the Montreal Impact.
It took him a couple minutes for it all to sink in. He was leaving the Philadelphia Union, the club that drafted him in 2010 before its inaugural season in Major League Soccer and where he had spent the last five years.
He was just starting to make a name for himself—becoming the main-man in attack, leading the team in scoring with 12 goals in the 2013 season, getting called up for the U.S national team and playing in an MLS All Star game. And then there was the sudden and stinging realization of no longer being wanted.
“It just hit me. You realize that you’re not part of the team anymore, and at that point you just want to get out of there and get away from it,” McInerney told Sportsnet.
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Philadelphia was looking for something different. After scoring 10 goals in 12 games in 2013, McInerney’s production had drastically declined and his contract was set to expire by the end of the current season. But more than anything, Philadelphia wanted another type of forward, one in the mold of the Impact’s Andrew Wenger.
“[Wenger] is more of a prototypical No. 9 than Jack was or is,” Union coach John Hackworth explained following the trade, one that saw McInerney and Wenger switch places.
From McInerney’s point of view, it wasn’t so much a problem of not being good enough, but of Philadelphia’s playing style not suiting his qualities.
“Every team in the league has their own style. The way Philly was trying to play, I personally never thought it was a good fit for me,” McInerney explained. “Playing in a 4-3-3, where the centre-forward needs to be pretty big, and physical, and be able to hold up the ball and win headers—I’m pretty much the exact opposite of that.”
Also, as opposed to Wenger who finished his college degree even at the cost of delaying his professional career by several months, McInerney decided that prolonging his studies beyond high school wasn’t worth his time. After faring well at the 2009 Under-17 World Cup in Nigeria, scoring two goals in four games for the U.S, McInerney was already receiving offers at home and abroad.
At the youth soccer level, it is often the case that physical specimens dominate, especially in the attack, where they can simply bulldoze their way past defenders. Being smaller and slower than many players of his age category, however, McInerney remembers that he never enjoyed that advantage. His success on the field hinged on smart play—making effective runs and being at the right place at the right time.
As far as forwards go, the 21-year-old acknowledges that he’s a rare breed.
“There’s not very many forwards that can just rely on their movement,” McInerney said.
It so happens that veteran Impact forward Marco Di Vaio has been able to have a long and successful career in that very manner, with a similarly specific skill set. The fact that McInerney can now play with Di Vaio and learn from his experience is, he feels, ideal.
“We definitely have similar styles; were not going to be that big physical forward that’s going to take on three defenders,” McInerney said.
“He played in some of the top leagues in the world and being successful in MLS, it’s kind of a perfect fit, I can play under him and learn from all the experience that he’s gained over the years.”
Most important, the Tennessee native, who has one goal in three starts with the Impact so far, feels appreciated again.
“The coaching staff told me that they’ve been trying to get me for a while, and that means that they have plans for me so I definitely want to be here,” McInerney said. “As long as I’m playing I’m happy.”
Nick Sabetti is a Montreal-based writer. Follow him on Twitter.