Kerith Gabriel: With Nowak out as Union coach, McInerney is out of the doghouse

Union's Jack McInerney (right), in a 2011 game, is getting a fresh start under John Hackworth. associated press
Union's Jack McInerney (right), in a 2011 game, is getting a fresh start under John Hackworth. associated press
Posted: June 22, 2012

IT WAS the Red Bull New York game, I believe.

As I walked the concourse on the way to the press box, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Union forward Jack McInerney, sitting with a very attractive woman near the club suites — looking as if he was ready to kill someone.

McInerney, 19, looked more disgruntled than anyone I'd ever seen wearing a tailored suit sitting in a private box alongside eye candy.

McInerney acknowledges that gorgeous May afternoon ranked as one of the worst in his young pro career. It marked the beginning of a five-game MLS stretch in which the affectionately named "Jack Mac" — angry, confused and forlorn — watched from somewhere within PPL Park or even from home as his club took the field without him.

"I hadn't dressed in about five to six games under [former Union boss] Peter Nowak as the coach; I just wasn't his top choice at the time," McInerney said after practice Wednesday. "It just made me [ticked off]. We are all here for the same reason, you know, to play and win games, and I wasn't getting that opportunity and it's frustrating.

Frustrating in the sense that McInerney, a U.S. youth international with close to 20 caps for various U.S. age groups, began to question his worth in Philadelphia.

“When you start to doubt yourself, you also wonder if you're just ready for a change or if it's time to move on, but I stuck it out and I got a good opportunity last week," McInerney said.

For the first time in five MLS matches — McInerney came on as a 63rd minute substitute in the April 28 loss to San Jose — the Tennessee-born striker played alongside his teammates, taking the place of Lionard Pajoy, out with a suspension. He played 74 minutes in Saturday's 1-0 loss to D.C. United, registering a shot. It was vindication for McInerney, a chance for him to show he is better than the reserve team — to show he hadn't lost the skills that got him drafted here 3 years ago.

"I think Jack played very well against United, he had some really good minutes for us," said interim coach John Hackworth, who took over when Nowak was fired on June 13. "We are committed to our youth and the development of young talent, and Jack is a very big part of what we do here."

It's never easy for young players to break into the big time. Although they feel they may have made it by making the roster of an MLS club, there is still much more work to be done. McInerney realizes this. He knows he's not a game changer yet — and no one expects him to be at his age. But he'd still like to be given the chance. The clarity one receives from obtaining the trust of his coach goes a long way. In this moment, as a member of the Union, McInerney for the first time since he was drafted in 2010 finally feels as though he belongs.

"When coach [Hackworth] took over, for me, I knew it was going to be a fresh start," McInerney said. "I know coach Hack was one of the reasons why I was drafted here to Philadelphia, and he was one of the ones that started my career when [he was the director of the U.S. Soccer's youth residency program in Bradenton, Fla.]. It was just a good opportunity for me.

“Not playing [stinks], man. Just sitting up in the stands not knowing why you are up there, was probably the toughest run of my career. The worst part was not knowing why as it was never really explained. Look, I am a much happier player now, and I look to bring that into my game, so I can help this club and my teammates."

New world order

Hackworth did not wait long to give fans a chance to see how this team performs. On Thursday night, the Union held its first-ever open practice session for season ticketholders and supporters groups. An idea unheard of under Nowak, fans traveled to PPL Park to watch the Union prepare for Saturday's game.

All-Star stuff

On Thursday, MLS named D.C. United coach Ben Olsen as coach of the MLS All-Stars, taking Nowak's place. Hackworth was named one of four assistants for the July 25 match against Chelsea at PPL Park.

Nelson Rodriguez, MLS executive vice president of competition and game operations, said Olsen's strong record with United and the fact that the club is in close by and doesn't have a league match the following weekend played into the decision. Nowak had gotten the nod by virtue of being the coach of the host team.

It's very possible the Union could be among the few All-Star hosts without an All-Star representative. In the most recent vote totals at MLSSoccer.com, no Union player cracked the top five in any position; Freddy Adu was the highest, at No. 7 among midfielders. The top vote-getters so far at each position are: San Jose forward Chris Wondolowski; Los Angeles midfielder David Beckham, Sporting Kansas City defender Aurélien Collin and goalkeeper Chivas USA goalkeeper Dan Kennedy.

Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Sports Congress has a website for out-of-towners heading to the game. Go to www.philadelphiasportscongress.org/mls

Odds and endlines

If the Union wins its Open Cup quarterfinal Tuesday against Harrisburg, it will host the winner of the Sporting Kansas City/Dayton quarterfinal on July 10 or 11 at 7:30 p.m. … Junior Lone Star FC, Philly's semipro club that competes in the National Professional Soccer League, is 2-6 in its inaugural season. It's next match is 7 p.m. Sunday against Morris County (N.J.) at Northeast High … U.S. Youth Soccer Region I championships begin next Thursday and run through July 3 at Clipper Magazine Stadium in Lancaster, Pa. For more info, go to www.epysa.org.

Contact Kerith Gabriel at gabrielk@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @sprtswtr.

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