Things are gloomy around Stade Saputo these days.
The Montreal Impact’s five-game losing streak leaves them with a meagre three wins on the season overshadowed by 12 losses. Twelve points out of a playoff spot, Montreal is dead last in Major League Soccer and in serious danger of not qualifying for the post-season.
The darkness around the club is starting to take its toll, claiming the job of the Impact’s (now former–) sporting director Nick De Santis this past week.
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But there’s at least one bright light in Montreal: Jack McInerney. The young American striker is an MLS star-in-the-making. More importantly for Montreal Impact fans, he’s the kind of budding talent that promises better days are ahead.
Having bypassed collegiate soccer, the Tennessean got his start as a pro with the Philadelphia Union as a 17 year old with promise. A first-round draft pick in 2010 (seventh overall) out of high school, he bagged his first goal that year, against an LA Galaxy squad that would go on to win the Supporter’s Shield. Over the next three years the kid Union fans took to calling “Jack Mack” began to prove himself in MLS, playing more games and scoring more goals.
By the 2013 season the 20 year old was ready for a breakout. He got one: 12 goals in 31 games, leading the Union in goals and finishing the year as the second-highest American scorer in MLS.
The American national team took notice. While McInerney had torn up the youth ranks, scoring 11 goals in 15 games for the U17s—including a pair at the 2009 U-17 World Cup in Nigeria—McInerney earned his first call to the senior American squad in 2013, making the team for the CONCACAF Gold Cup. He didn’t see the field as the Americans won their fifth continental title, but he gained invaluable experience.
“I think for a player like Jack, right now it’s a tremendous learning curve,” American coach Jurgen Klinsmann said at the time. “You train every day with these guys and you see, ‘Okay this is my club level and this is the national team.’”
McInerney’s club level, however, has continued to rise. He scored in the Union’s season opener this year, enough to convince the Impact to acquire him in a trade for Andrew Wenger. In 15 games since, McInerney has scored six times—nearly a third of the struggling Impact’s goal haul—putting him on pace for 13 goals and a new career-best campaign.
McInerney also grabbed his first professional silverware with Montreal this season, scoring three goals and winning the tournament golden boot as Montreal claimed Canadian Championship title. Fitting, really, that “Jack Mack” was the best part of the only good news his team has had this season.
The Impact sorely need more good news. Saturday’s opponent—bitter rivals Toronto FC—represent the perfect opportunity. Montreal has only dropped two of their last seven games against TFC, and their last meeting was the Impact’s dramatic, last-gasp Canadian Championship win.
If there’s hope to be build for the Impact, Saturday is the day to start building it. If there’s a player to rally that hope around, it’s Jack McInerney.
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