Commentary: Jack McInerney is gone but fellow Union original Amobi Okugo shouldn't have to follow

Commentary: Jack McInerney is gone but fellow Union original Amobi Okugo shouldn't have to follow

You might have heard that the Union traded Jack McInerney last week and you might have read Steve Moore’s analysis of the surprising deal on this site.

While I’m not here to argue with Steve’s point that the trade shouldn’t cause Union fans to panic (SERIOUSLY, DON'T PANIC!!!), and while I agree there are a couple of valid reasons why the deal was a made, I would like to take a different position here.

That position is that, in the wake of this trade, the Union should do everything they can to lock up Amobi Okugo – who, like McInerney, was an original member of the franchise’s first draft class – to a long-term deal.

But let’s backtrack for a minute first.

McInerney, for all of his faults and streaky play, was a young forward that had been with the Union since the first day of the franchise’s first season. He scored his first professional goal against the mighty Galaxy in Los Angeles when he was 17. He started in the playoffs the following season. He earned a permanent place in the starting lineup in 2012. And he became the “next big thing” in American soccer in 2013 before he even turned 21, riding a goal-scoring surge to the MLS All-Star Game and his first U.S. national team call-up.

Basically, as the Philadelphia Union grew up, so did McInerney. And while nostalgia and loyalty is not a reason to keep a player, the Union have – fairly or unfairly – developed somewhat of a reputation as a club that jettisons players that are fan favorites who have been here from the beginning. (Part of the reason former manager Peter Nowak was fired was partly due to how he handled the trades that sent away franchise originals Sebastien Le Toux, Danny Califf and Danny Mwanga.)

But McInerney is gone. The Union didn’t think he was a natural fit in their 4-3-3 system, they didn’t like how he stopped scoring following his U.S. national team call-up, they didn’t like his rising pricetag, and they didn’t think they’d be able to re-sign him to a new contract at an appropriate price. (You can read more of John Hackworth’s rationale behind the trade here).

But just a quick look at the latest MLS salary info, which was released yesterday, will tell you that the Union are willing to open up their wallets. Designated Player Maurice Edu, for instance, is making $650,000 this season – more than any other Union player ever. Yes, Edu is a World Cup veteran who has brought some much-needed stability to the Union midfield. But if the Union are willing to pay that much for him, they should be just as willing to give hefty raises to players that are being groomed to perhaps one day follow Edu to the U.S. national team.

Players like Amobi Okugo.

The only holdover who’s played for the franchise continuously since the start of its inaugural season, Okugo is an extremely talented player with a good head on his shoulders and a very likeable personality (if you’re not following him on Twitter, you should be). At 23, he’s already emerged as one of the league’s most promising young center backs, he has extensive experience in the U.S. youth national team system, and he has the unique skill set to star as both a defender (where he’s played with the Union) and as a holding midfielder (where he’s played most of his career). (You can read my brilliantly crafted profile of him from last year here.)

Yes, Okugo has said he hopes to one day play in Europe. Many Americans feel this way because the salaries are higher and the stage is grander. But MLS salaries are on the rise and many of the best U.S. players are opting to cash in and play here (some, like Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey, are returning from Europe; others, like Omar Gonzalez, are passing up the chance to play in other leagues to stay in MLS). As Okugo has eloquently stated, there’s also the idea that players like him want to eventually go overseas because they grew up watching the Premier League and not MLS, a league that was still in its infancy back then. But that, too, could be changing.

Basically, it all comes down to this: if the Union want Okugo to stay in Philly, they can certainly try to keep him here. They can make him a Designated Player. They can have him replace the aging Brian Carroll as the team’s captain (and, perhaps, holding midfielder). They can scoff at any trade offers from around the league that doesn’t include big-time returns. They can build the team around him. And if he develops into a true MLS star, they can then listen to offers from Europe.

It doesn’t happen often – especially in soccer – but there’s something romantic about a player spending his entire career with one team. It’s even more romantic when a rookie and an expansion team grow up together.

It won’t happen for McInerney in Philly. But it can still happen for Okugo. And it probably should.

Penn routs Yale, 42-7, behind Alek Torgersen's four TDs


Penn routs Yale, 42-7, behind Alek Torgersen's four TDs

NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Alek Torgersen threw four touchdown passes, three to Justin Watson, and Penn rolled to a 42-7 victory over Yale in the first night game in Yale Bowl history.

Torgersen completed 16 of 23 passes for 229 yards and rushed for 66 yards. Watson had 10 receptions for 166 yards with touchdowns covering 5, 41 and 35 yards.

Torgersen moved into a tie for second with 47 career TD passes and Watson moved into fourth in career receptions (161) and touchdowns (17) for the Quakers (4-2, 3-0 Ivy Leauge).

Tre Solomon rushed for 120 yards, seven shy of the career high he set a week earlier, on 15 carries, including a 3-yard touchdown run, for Penn, which won its fourth straight. Cameron Countryman had a 10-yard touchdown reception and Karekin Brooks had a 13-yard run for his first career touchdown.

Penn, which led 35-0 at halftime, finished with 508 yards and held the Bulldogs (1-5, 1-2) to 229.

Instant Replay: Temple 46, South Florida 30

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Instant Replay: Temple 46, South Florida 30


Despite some hiccups along the road this season, Temple is now right where it planned on being to start 2016: atop the American Athletic Conference East Division.

Temple turned the tables on run-oriented South Florida to gash the Bulls for 319 yards rushing (210 coming from Ryquell Armstead) in a 46-30 win at Lincoln Financial Field on Friday night.

The Owls (5-3, 3-1 AAC) avenged last season’s blowout with the win and, more importantly, moved into a first-place tie in the conference’s East Division. With back-to-back victories over South Florida and Central Florida, Temple now holds tiebreakers over the two closest teams in the East standings.

South Florida (6-2, 3-1 AAC) had its three-game winning streak snapped.

Turning point
After falling behind 23-20 on a quick three-play, 84-yard touchdown drive, the Owls’ defense looked like it might allow the floodgates to open for good.

However, Temple’s offense picked up the D by scoring in just three plays of its own. Jahad Thomas and Isaiah Wright churned out big runs before Armstead broke free around the right side for a 42-yard touchdown.

Even with South Florida getting good field position on the next possession thanks to a taunting penalty by Armstead, the Owls’ defense was able to pick up on the momentum. The unit forced a three-and-out and then blocked the ensuing punt to get the ball back at the Bulls’ 20-yard line.

Two plays later, Thomas scampered into the end zone from nine yards out to give Temple a double-digit lead.

Big men on campus
Armstead did the heavy lifting for Temple. He racked up 20 carries for 210 yards, to become the 10th back in school history to reach the 200-yard rushing plateau. He ran in scores from 76 yards and 42 yards out. The 76-yarder was TU’s eighth-longest touchdown run in school history. 

Jahad Thomas increased his streak of two-TD games to six with a pair of rushing scores in the second half.

Phillip Walker was efficient for the Owls as he completed 14 of 21 passes for 209 yards with one TD and zero interceptions.

Ventell Bryant had five catches for 115 yards to top the 100-yard receiving mark for the first time in his career.

Linebacker Stephaun Marshall led Temple with eight tackles while Delvon Randall had seven tackles and an interception. Averee Robinson had a pair of sacks for the Owls and Romond Deloatch tacked on a sack for a safety.

For USF, the dynamic duo of quarterback Quinton Flowers and tailback Marlon Mack combined for 377 total yards and four touchdowns.

Inside the box score
• Matt Rhule improved his all-time record to 23-23 with the win.

• Temple moved to 4-1 at Lincoln Financial Field this season.

• South Florida had won nine straight AAC East Division games prior to Friday night.

• USF entered the game ranked eighth in the nation in rushing yards per game (268.4). The Bulls were held to 165 against Temple.

• Praise Martin-Oguike blocked an extra point to give him an NCAA-leading five blocked kicks in his career.

Friday’s game marked the third all-time matchup between the two schools.

South Florida rolled to a 44-23 win over then-ranked No. 22 Temple last season, while TU took the first-ever meeting, 37-28, back in 2012.

Commish chats
The Big 12 Conference announced earlier this week that it would no longer be seeking teams for possible expansion.

That decision certainly wasn’t made for a lack of effort as over a dozen schools were rumored to be potential expansion candidates, including American Athletic Conference programs Houston, Connecticut, Cincinnati and Tulane.

The possibility of an AAC team defecting to a Power 5 conference didn’t bother Commissioner Mike Aresco. For him, it’s all good publicity for the up-and-coming American.

“It spoke volumes about the fact that our schools are the ones that everybody looked at in terms of being in a P5 (Power 5 conference) and we were the schools that the Big 12 looked at for the most part,” Aresco said before Friday’s Temple-South Florida game at Lincoln Financial Field. “The majority of our schools and at times it almost seemed like it was virtually all of our schools and exclusively our schools.

“The truth is, that really gave us the kind of publicity and attention and a lot of it was good. Our schools are good schools and we played well. Houston had the big win in the meantime against Oklahoma. That was priceless publicity. We probably haven’t gotten that kind of branding and recognition nationally any other way.”

What’s next?
Temple will be back at the Linc next Saturday for a 3:30 p.m. matchup against Cincinnati.

South Florida returns home next Friday for a big tilt against No. 24 Navy.