BRIAN SCIARETTA - Wednesday, March 24, 2010
After having long been considered one of the top American teenage forward prospects, Jack McInerney will strive to make significant transitions in his career in 2010 as he both begins his first professional season with the Philadelphia Union of MLS and also looks to become a leader on the US U20 national team.
After excelling at the youth levels in his native Georgia, McInerney first began garnering national attention when he was in residency at the Bradenton Academy where he played with the best U17 players in the country. McInerney said that Bradenton was a beneficial experience and has helped him in his adjustment to becoming a professional.
"It was great. It was a unique experience for two and a half years living with a bunch of other 16 year olds," McInerney told YA of his time in residency. "I would never take it back. I am happy I went. And playing with the best players in the country at that age group is going to help you become a better player. It's sort of a professional environment so it definitely helped me to go from there to here [with Philadelphia]."
Following his time at Bradenton which ended at the 2009 U17 World Cup in Nigeria where the US reached the round of 16 before falling to world power Italy, McInerney was faced with a difficult decision as to how to proceed with his career.
With FIFA restrictions making it difficult for players under the age of 18 to sign fulltime with foreign clubs, McInerney considered staying domestic in either college or MLS. He also explored options he had overseas but which would have been limited until he turned 18 this August.
"It was difficult. At first it was 'should I go to college or should I go pro?' I eventually ruled out college because I had enough options to go pro," McInerney recalled of his decision. "After the World Cup my goal was to graduate high school and then plan on where I wanted to end up in my future. I talked to a couple of Dutch clubs. But after the World Cup, the MLS came along and they just put together too good of a deal I couldn't let go. So I decided to go to MLS."
After signing a generation Adidas contract with MLS, McInerney entered the MLS Superdraft in January to determine the club at which he would launch his career. He was selected by the expansion club Philadelphia Union with the seventh overall pick and McInerney recalls that it was an amazing experience.
"At first I had no idea where I was going to go in the draft," The Georgia native recalled. "Philadelphia hadn't even crossed my mind until I saw that they had traded for two picks the night before. When I was at the draft at it was the time for the seventh pick I was looking around and I saw Coach Peter [Nowak] looking at me and he was pointing at me and he was like 'you're going up there next.' I started freaking out."
With more than two months having passed since that draft, McInerney is currently with the Union as the club prepares to begin its season this week and he feels as if his adjustment to the professional level has been going well.
"It's been pretty much what I thought it would be," McInerney explained. "It's been tough just adapting to the new life. It's a job now. The guys are much older, the speed of play and the [physicality] of the game. It's been tough to adapt to but everything is going well."
In Philadelphia, McInerney is enjoying being with a new team that has a blend of both experienced professionals as well as younger players like Amobi Okugo and Danny Mwanga who are making a similar transition to the professional level. For McInerney, Okugo, and Mwanga, all three will hope to become important players for the team despite their youth.
"It makes it somewhat easier knowing that [Okugo and Mwanga] are going through the same thing," McInerney said of his team. "We've been hanging out together and we plan to live in the same area. We've been hanging out while we've been in the hotel. It's been good on and off the field. It helps just knowing that they are there. The older guys are taking care of everyone. Even the coaching staff is helping out in adapting to the new team. All the new players are joining together to become one. So it's been going really well."
Coaching him in Philadelphia is Peter Nowak. The former Polish international and Bundesliga star has been a great influence on McInerney who appreciates learning from a former attacking player who has achieved success as a high level.
"He's kind of taken me under his wing and has given me good information before and after practice about what I need to do," McInerney said of his coach. "I know he was an amazing attacking player and I know he's going to help me become the player I want to be."
While McInerney is adapting to the professional environment, he is also hoping to establish himself on the US U20 team as they begin their two year cycle and build towards the 2011 U20 World Cup in Colombia. McInerney has already taken part in the first camp of the cycle in December as well as last month's Copa Chivas tournament in Mexico.
"It's a little different with the coaching staff but you change coaches every so often so that is something you always have to adapt to," McInerney said of his first few times with the U-20s. "But you are going in with the guys at the U17s so you kind of stick with them. Obviously the guys [born in 1991] are going to be in our age group too and we know most of them because when we went into residency, they were there as well. So it wasn't that tough to adapt to it."
With the U20 national team, McInerney will play under U20 head coach Thomas Rongen who is coaching his fourth U20 cycle and has lead two of his teams to the quarterfinals of the U20 World Cup.
"He treats us like professionals and he knows the game very well," McInerney said. "He's played at a high level so it's exciting to play for someone that's been there before."
McInerney also says he enjoyed working with former US star striker and World Cup veteran Eric Wynalda who was brought on by Rongen as an assistant coach for the Copa Chivas tournament.
"He was great. After the games he would pull me aside and tell me what he liked and what he didn't like," McInerney said of working with Wynalda. "It was the first time I have met him and I know he's one of the greatest forward in the history of American soccer. It was a great experience to meet him and to listen to what he had to say."
While McInerney figures to be a mainstay with the US U20 team this cycle, he will not be playing at the Dallas Cup later this month. McInerney said he and his Union teammate Amobi Okugo were invited by coach Rongen but Nowak and the Union refused to let them go.
"We were in Mexico when the U20 staff tried to contact Coach Peter [Nowak] and Peter later pulled me and Amobi aside and told us he wasn't going to let us go to Dallas," McInerney explained. "But I guess somehow Amobi is going just for the opening game against Mexico."
The U20 World Cup next year is a high priority for McInerney who very much wants to take part and excel in the prestigious tournament that will feature some of the best players in world from that age group.
"It's huge. You always want to stay in with the national team," McInerney stressed. "The World Cup is the biggest stage you can play on at that level. I want to stay with that group and be there for that."
While McInerney's personal goals in the coming years will revolve around the Philadelphia Union and the US U20 team, he does have a long term goal of playing professionally in the biggest leagues in the world in Europe. Last year he trained in Holland and since then it has been a goal for him to return to the continent and play in the major leagues of the world.
"Yes, for sure," McInerney said when asked if he wanted to play in Europe in the future. "I always want to try something different. It's a whole different style and way of life. I definitely want to try that out. [When I went to Holland] it was actually the first time I had ever trained with professionals and being over there all by myself was a little different. But they treated me great and I learned a lot from it. It helped me when I came to Philadelphia to expect what's to come."