The early signs are indicating that Philadelphia Union’s young striker and one of Major League Soccer’s ever-emerging prospects Jack McInerney is to make this his most impressive season yet, and just as his on-field composure has improved since his first year maybe his vocal arrangement is a little less rusty now too!
This is the 20-year-old frontman’s fourth season with the Union having been there from the very start of their time in the MLS, appearing as a late substitute in their inaugural fixture at Seattle Sounders on March 25th 2010. He has been steadily making his way up in the game since then and his eight-goal haul in the 2012 season made him the team’s top scorer. The opening exchanges of the 2013 campaign have seen ‘Jack Mac’ hitting the headlines with consecutive winning goals last month against Colorado Rapids and New England Revolution. The goals started to flow more freely for the striker last year after John Hackworth’s elevation to the manager’s position and this time around the trend has continued. It all marks tangible progression for Jack and when he thinks back to his early days with the Union there was much to fine-tune, and not all of it on the pitch, as he explains.
“My first year I had to sing (Baha Men) ‘Who Let The Dogs Out?’ in front of the team. I’m not a big singer and I was only 17 at the time, so it was really embarrassing and uncomfortable – I did terrible!’’
Each and every professional player around the world has their own methods for awakening that motivation inside them when game day comes around and music is invariably a considerable part of this for so many individuals and teams. Last July, there was another Union player on this site, midfielder Michael Lahoud, the former Chivas USA man who had just made the move to Philadelphia at the time. He told of how he was considering putting his own song on for the team to hear in the locker room at some point and he also revealed how Chris Albright, Freddy Adu and Sheanon Williams were the players who tended to boss the pre-match playlist. Of those three names mentioned, attacking midfielder Adu has recently moved on, defender Albright is still with his hometown club, and Williams remains in both the Union backline and ready and prepared on the button when kick-off is approaching.
“Sheanon Williams is the closest to the speakers, so he usually runs it and puts on Pandora. He usually mixes it up to ease the crowd.
“A lot of the guys are into techno music right now, especially Antoine Hoppenot. Amobi Okugo and Sheanon Williams are right there into rap with me while Jeff Parke is a big country guy.’’
Jeff Parke was a commanding presence at the back in the recent win over New England Revolution and a big reason why the team managed to keep a clean sheet in the 1-0 victory. Jack, born in Chattanooga, Tennessee but raised in Alpharetta, Georgia, likes to take the best of both worlds when it comes to the favourite genre of Parke, and also the aforementioned Okugo and Williams.
“My favourite genre is rap but I mostly listen to anything. Country is probably what I listen to the second most.
“My favourite rapper is Drake, and although I like some of his songs I do not like Kanye West. One I like to listen to before games is Drake’s ‘Take Care’ album.’’
Jack’s career has of course led him to Pennsylvania but 12 years ago the Union’s number nine was tapping into a musical mindset from an artist that was all about Midwest hip-hop, although you definitely wouldn’t know it if you listened to his current material (Hey Porsche?)!
“The first CD I ever bought was Nelly’s ‘Country Grammar’ in 2001. ‘Ride Wit’ Me’ was the best song.’’
In Philadelphia’s 2-1 win over Colorado on March 10th, Jack registered the decisive goal with his low finish past Rapids keeper Matt Pickens but there was another Union player on the scoresheet that day. Amobi Okugo, a defender/midfielder who was with Jack in the national team set-up before joining the Union back in 2010, is a long-time friend of the striker and his goal was his first in the professional game. Okugo stayed cool in his celebration when he rose to head home Sebastien Le Toux’s corner but he is an expressive individual in another way, as Jack explains.
“I room with him every trip and his locker is right next to mine. He doesn’t care and will burst out singing in front of everyone.
“Occasionally he will throw in a dance to go with it.’’
Jack was once described by former Colombia international defender and his U.S. Under-17 coach Wilmer Cabrera as someone who saved his talking for on the field and it has been proven in recent times. Union boss John Hackworth believes Jack is the man to step up when it really matters in games and his winner against New England was his third decisive strike against them. His first professional goal came on May 1st 2010 against LA Galaxy and just over two years later his wonderful improvised backheel against the same opposition won him the accolade of MLS Goal of the Week. After limited starting opportunities in the 2010 and 2011 seasons in which Jack scored four times (three in 2010), last season’s tally of eight goals in 25 appearances (18 starts) was a marker in his young career. With the Union currently 5th in the Eastern Conference with six points from the first four games, Jack believes he learnt an important lesson last year and from a team perspective he is feeling optimistic about the possibility of bettering the 8th-place finish of 2012.
“I think it taught me that I need to be more consistent as a player. You have to show up every day and perform because your team counts on you to score every night.
“The thing that excites me most is that we have a clean slate. Last year was rough for the club and we finally get a chance to prove with the numbers that we are better than that.’’
A discussion about the Union has to be supplemented with a mention for the Sons of Ben supporters group. The vociferous ‘SoBs’ were huge in bringing the dream of Philadelphia Union to reality as it was their commitment, their numbers and their desire that swayed the decision to allow the franchise to join the league. The group’s story is one that deserves to be told and it goes much deeper than may initially meet the eye, as director of the ‘Sons of Ben’ film Jeffrey C. Bell has explored. The Rothbury Road Productions documentary is currently the subject of an admirable effort to raise the necessary funds to allow a release in early 2014, and the hope is that audiences will get to learn all about stories such as how the SoBs’ Help Kick Hunger drive has made such a difference in Chester, the Union’s base. The fans are the lifeblood of any team, no matter which league and which country the club plays in, and Jack is in agreement with this.
“The thing I like most about the Union is the fans. Every night they show up and are chanting their heads off from the get-go.
“I like the history most about the city. There is always something to go see or do.’’
The 2009 CONCACAF Under-17 Championship top scorer, Jack was on the mark twice in the FIFA Under-19 World Cup in Nigeria that year alongside such world-renowned names as Brazil’s Neymar and Germany’s Mario Gotze. His idol growing up was Thierry Henry, a man who secured the winner for rivals New York Red Bulls in the clash with the Union last Saturday, and the Frenchman is an Arsenal and English Premier League legend. Jack mentioned the Gunners when he was asked if he watched much of the English game (as I run the site from over here), although the player he currently admires the most is one from their bitter North London neighbours Tottenham Hotspur.
“Yes my favourite team is Arsenal. Favourite player has to be Gareth Bale – man is a beast.’’
Philadelphia are currently focusing on the trip to take on Columbus Crew this weekend and ex-Manchester United and Brazil’s World Cup-winning midfielder Kleberson is officially a Union player now, having moved on loan from Bahia in his homeland with Freddy Adu going the other way on a permanent deal. Jack will be set on adding to his two goals in the season so far but before he goes about that let’s have a look at the players he has shared a locker room with in his career so far. I was looking for Jack to select a 5-a-side team comprising of the four best players he has ever worked with, to go alongside himself in the line-up.
“Goalkeeper, Faryd Mondragon – a great leader and it always helps when you keep the ball out of the net. Defender, Amobi Okugo – he hates losing and will go in every tackle as hard as he can.
“Midfielder, Fred – skilful Brazilian who will never lose the ball and can always find the forward making a run. Striker, Carlos Ruiz – strongest guy I’ve ever played against, he can hold up the ball and finish like I’ve never seen.’’