Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By JOEL HOOVER
The story has played itself out seemingly all summer: another Philadelphia Union match, another scoreless shift for Jack McInerney.
After a blistering 10 goals in the first 14 matches of the season, the 21-year-old forward has experienced a U.S. national team call-up for the group stage of the Gold Cup, an MLS All-Star selection, and a goal drought that has now stretched eight games since a game against Toronto on June 1. While it has been far from ideal, Union manager John Hackworth emphasized in his weekly Wednesday press conference that McInerney’s scoreless run is all a matter of perspective.
“It’s easy to point out the fact that (McInerney) hasn’t scored, but yet our team has done pretty well over the last stretch that he’s been back with us,” Hackworth said, referring to the Union’s 2-1-2 mark since McInerney returned from Gold Cup duty.
While the final product in front of goal has been missing, it’s the young forward’s play in other areas of the field that Hackworth believes the forward “hasn’t gotten any credit” for. McInerney’s movement and touches in build-ups have created space for Conor Casey to bring his season tally to nine, buoyed by a brace against D.C. United in a 2-0 win on August 10. And while McInerney has shown a recent tendency to become unselfish on the ball in the final third, he did pile up 12 shots in a three-match span against Vancouver, Chicago, and United, but found the service lacking this past weekend against the New York Red Bulls.
In spite of his performance in other areas around the field, questions have been aroused as to whether or not McInerney’s place in the starting lineup is a given, even ahead of playing a stout defensive side like the New England Revolution this coming weekend.
Hackworth made sure that such talk was quelled.
“I worry about a lot of the talk being about Jack not scoring,” Hackworth said. “As long as we’re successful as a team, Jack’s successful. If he was scoring a goal and we were losing, I don’t think any of us would be happy.”
Here are some more notes from the Union’s weekly press conference:
DEFENSE STARTING TO PEAK AFTER ANOTHER SHUTOUT
The scoreless road draw this past weekend with the Red Bulls was built in large part on the back of another strong performance by the Union defense. John Hackworth said he’s “pretty critical internally” of the defense and what kind of performances they give, but couldn’t help hailing their efforts in giving the Union their first-ever result at Red Bull Arena.
“While I think we’ve been pretty good (lately), I think the (defensive) performance against New York was exceptional,” Hackworth said.
Since giving up a late equalizer in their 2-2 draw at Real Salt Lake on July 3, the Union have only allowed four league goals in their past seven league matches, with two of those goals coming in a 2-1 loss to Chicago on August 3. Additionally, they have posted four shutouts in that same span.
The reasons can be traced to several different factors. Boosted by the training of Ola Nikolov, Zac MacMath has continued to show improvement in his command of the penalty area. Amobi Okugo and Jeff Parke have begun to show better understanding with one another and their outside defenders. And in the recent absence of left back Raymon Gaddis due to injury, Fabinho has stepped in with some strong performances at that very position, both going forward against D.C. and conservatively defending more against New York.
The recent improvements and adjustments culminated in a complete performance against a “strong” New York side Saturday that had Designated Players Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill in action. Hackworth said it was a coming together of several defensive principles that limited the chances for New York and preserved the cleansheet for the Union.
“(Those principles) get screwed up a lot, but we did them really well…probably the best we’ve done them all year.” Hackworth said. “The defense is playing very well right now.”
NATIONAL TEAM NEXT FOR WILLIAMS?
While the defense of the Union is starting to step into the spotlight following their recent performances, one of the back-line’s members has continued to quietly put together a strong season.
Sheanon Williams has started all 24 games this season for Philadelphia, tying for fourth in the league in assists with eight and providing a stable presence at right back all season. His performances have gone under the radar thus far, but have led some to believe that the U.S. national team should give him a look–something his manager tends to agree with.
“Like other guys on our team who have done well, (Williams) deserves a chance,” Hackworth said. “But I think right now, the fact that we as a team…don’t have many players getting recognition, with Jack (McInerney) as an exception, is okay with us.”
Instead, Hackworth says such lack of recognition has been more of a motivating factor for the Union’s players to continue to push to new levels. There has been little concern over not receiving many national team call-ups though, as Williams and others have continued to go about the normal routine with hard work.
“Sheanon is a guy who just comes to work every day, does his job, and when he gets into a game, he’s competitive,” Hackworth said. “Because he’s done that so consistently, I think he’s thriving.”
Williams has plenty of experience at the international level for U.S. youth sides, representing the Americans at the FIFA Under-17 and Under-20 World Cups. He also was on the Olympic qualifying roster in 2012.
- Hackworth reported that Ray Gaddis’ high ankle sprain is “coming along” but “not at the level expected”. He returned to training Tuesday but tweaked his ankle again slightly, putting his place in the squad for the New England match Saturday at risk.
- Looking ahead to New England away this coming Saturday, Hackworth said that the Revolution have established a way of playing and that Jay Heaps has done a good job of balancing his roster and “throwing tweaks” into the tactics.
- With several Eastern Conference opponents to come in the following weeks after their draw with New York, Hackworth expects the intensity to continue to be high every week with playoff positions at stake and every game mattering for everyone.
Do you feel McInerney is positively contributing to the Union’s performances despite his lack of goals? Is the Union defense playing its best soccer right now ? Do you see Jurgen Klinsmann considering Sheanon Williams or other Union players for national team spots in the future?
Share your thoughts below.