Union's Jack McInerney scoring, gaining confidence
It's all coming quickly for the Union's fourth-year forward Jack McInerney - the goals, and the accompanying attention. A year ago, he was languishing on the bench, earning sporadic playing time in Major League Soccer. After a coaching change last June, with John Hackworth replacing Peter Nowak as team manager, McInerney took off, and he hasn't stopped.
It's all coming quickly for the Union's fourth-year forward Jack McInerney - the goals, and the accompanying attention.
A year ago, he was languishing on the bench, earning sporadic playing time in Major League Soccer. After a coaching change last June, with John Hackworth replacing Peter Nowak as team manager, McInerney took off, and he hasn't stopped.
Going into the weekend, McInerney was tied for the MLS lead with six goals for the 3-3-3 Union, who, like their 20-year-old striker, appear vastly improved after going 10-18-6 last season.
McInerney was named April's MLS player of the month.
"It's been a little crazy," McInerney said after a practice earlier this week. "I am happy I am doing well and if that kind of stuff [being named player of the month] comes along with it, I am fine. But it has been a lot to take in at once and hopefully I can keep it going."
So what has changed?
Well for one, he has taken advantage of the increased playing time. He scored all eight of his goals last season after Hackworth was promoted from his assistant coaching spot. In one late-season span, McInerney scored a goal in four consecutive games.
There is definitely a comfort level playing for Hackworth, who had guided McInerney while working with the U.S. under-17 national team.
Most of all, it was Hackworth who gave McInerney regular playing time, and the forward paid his coach back with his team-leading goal total last year and his productive start to this season.
"For the head coach being somebody you played with before, it puts you at ease that he knows you and what kind of player you are," McInerney said.
While playing just occasionally last year under Nowak, McInerney said, he never lost his goal-scoring touch, but was missing something just as important.
"It was a tough situation and it kind of hurts your confidence, not playing," he said. "At the time Peter was the coach and he didn't really explain to the players what was going on and why we weren't playing."
When it's suggested that he deserves credit for McInerney's development, Hackworth deflects the praise.
"I don't want to take credit for Jack scoring goals. I think he deserved the opportunity and as a coaching staff we gave him that opportunity," Hackworth said. "And when you give a player who is preparing [a chance], when they get it and take it, I think Jack is a good example of that process."
McInerney and the rest of the Union have benefited from the addition of Conor Casey, a physical forward who creates space for others. The two have developed a quick chemistry.
"Jack has all the tools to be a great goal-scorer," Casey said. "You have seen him grow week to week and he has continued to perform."
Nobody has a more apt description for the 5-foot-10, 151-pound McInerney than Union keeper Zac MacMath.
"He is like a gnat in front of the goal," MacMath said. "He annoys defenders, has a lot of power on his shot, and gets in a good spot."
When MacMath's gnat comparison was repeated to him, McInerney smiled and said he was guilty as charged.
"I am kind of in and out and will be there and all over you for a couple of minutes and then fade out," McInerney said. "That could be a good description and I will take it as a compliment."
While he has earned the reputation of being in the right place at the right time, his game has evolved into much more. For instance, McInerney has a rocket of a shot, and the righty showed his versatility by scoring two goals earlier this season in a 3-2 win at D.C. United with his left foot.
It was one of several impressive performances, indicating that the times on the bench last year seem long ago.
"It's all about confidence," McInerney said. "And right now, my confidence is good."
And so is his goal-scoring ability.
Racking Up Goals
Union leading goal scorers
MLS leading goal scorers