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CHESTER, Pa. -- It wasn’t the PPL Park send-off Jack McInerney envisioned.
As the 20-year-old sets to depart for the CONCACAF Gold Cup as part of the U.S. Men’s National Team on Monday, he leaves the Union reeling, after his club allowed a game-tying goal in the 97th minute to FC Dallas on Saturday (see story).
“It’s bittersweet,” said McInerney, who leads the Union with 10 goals. “You don’t want to end it on a game like this. But this team has the capability to go and get results when I’m gone.”
And they will have to.
Hitting the road to face Real Salt Lake and the Houston Dynamo in a four-day span would test the Union under normal circumstances. Throw in the loss of center-attacking-midfielder Keon Daniel (Trinidad and Tobago) and McInerney, and John Hackworth’s club will be at a clear disadvantage as it works to stay afloat in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
“Jack is having a phenomenal year, and everyone wants everyone to succeed on this team,” left back Sheanon Williams said. “He’s a good guy and we’re happy for him. But we have the guys here to move forward without him in the lineup.”
While it’s reasonable to feel like the Union will struggle without McInerney, there is a reason to be optimistic that the Union can survive -- they have short-term options at forward.
Making his presence felt on Saturday, 6-foot-4 Aaron Wheeler entered the game late against FC Dallas. In just a short time, he managed to score a header from Sheanon Williams and put himself on the map.
“Wheeler showed everyone what he can do and we already knew he could do that,” Antoine Hoppenot said. “He does it in practice every day. It’s great for him to come out and score. With Jack leaving, we showed we still have some talented players on this team.”
Wheeler showed that, in short bursts, the club can lean on him.
“I like to think I’ve been auditioning since March,” he said. “Any opportunity I get to play, I’ll be pleased. Jack going away is great for him and a great accolade. If coach thinks I can contribute, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll do what it takes to help the team.”
But it doesn’t stop there. The Union will need players like Hoppenot, Conor Casey and Roger Torres to fill the gaps and contend on the road against some of the league’s best home teams.
“We have guys ready to come in,” defender Amobi Okugo said. “Now the guys waiting have a chance to do well. Aaron made the most of his minutes, Antoine is going to have to step up, Roger. It’s a tough stretch for us in July and it could really make or break our season.”
Whether the Union sink or swim without McInerney, his teammates will be watching the Gold Cup with a rooting interest.
“I’ll be hoping for little brother Jack to get in,” Williams said. “What he’s doing this year is phenomenal. We saw flashes of it at the end of last year. We hope he gets his chance and buries it.”