When the 2011 season begins, Philadelphia Union will be down a starting striker after Alejandro Moreno was plucked by the Vancouver Whitecaps in the MLS Expansion Draft (later traded to Chivas USA). Moreno only scored twice last season, but he was second on the club with seven assists and provided intangibles as a veteran leader with three MLS Cup titles under his belt.
The Union can fill Moreno’s void in a few different ways. The most obvious is moving Best XI member Sebastien Le Toux up top alongside Rookie of the Year finalist Danny Mwanga on a permanent basis. After all, Le Toux often featured as a striker in 2010 and was prolific in the role. The beauty of Le Toux’s versatility, though, is that he loses no effectiveness as an attacking midfielder, enabling the technical staff to determine his positioning based upon the pieces around him.
Another option is acquiring a striker, a possibility alluded to when coach John Hackworth stated immediately following the Expansion Draft that replacing Moreno and Shea Salinas had to become an offseason priority. If Manager Peter Nowak prefers Le Toux in the midfield, bringing in a seasoned forward would figure to be even more critical. Just how necessary depends on one of the club’s wildcard factors in 2011: 18-year-old Jack McInerney.
McInerney’s skill set isn’t in question, nor was his productivity in limited minutes last season. The youngster netted three goals in only 350 minutes of league action, adding another tally in a friendly vs. Chivas Guadalajara. As a regular member of U.S. National Team youth sides, McInerney’s future is unquestionably bright. But is he ready to begin receiving regular minutes in 2011, and if so, can he withstand the rigors of a physically taxing 34-game regular season?
From a purely technical standpoint, McInerney proved that he’s ready to contribute more consistently. Possessing rare finishing instincts for a player with limited experience at the professional level, McInerney converted all three of his shots on goal in 2010. Provided he receives even a modest boost in playing time, McInerney has the tools to be successful in 2011 so long as he frequently puts himself in position to score.
“[Manager] Peter [Nowak] has been trying to teach me to find the spaces and get into an area where I can turn and get out and go,” McInerney told philadelphiaunion.com. “Coach wants me to be a playmaker, so I just need to find the ball.”
While McInerney’s continued progression is key, as is Mwanga’s ability to take the next step. The 19-year-old had an impressive rookie campaign, with seven goals and four assists in only 17 starts. Mwanga’s production came in spurts, however, and he failed to register a goal in the club’s final 11 matches. A separated shoulder contributed to his dip in form, but the fact remains that Mwanga must become a more consistent attacking option in year two.
“He knows the push forward he has to make,” said Nowak. “Danny understands. He’s very smart, very bright and a very intelligent kid. He’ll keep getting better and better. There are some things in the game, little things that he has to work on. He’s 19 years old and the skills are there.
“The most important thing is to keep pushing forward and working on them and work to his strengths. Sometimes, you can work too much on your weaknesses like 65-70 percent and not work on the strengths. I think the potential is very high for Danny Mwanga. I think we’ll see even more improvement from Danny. He’s a very talented and capable player.”
Whether or not Philadelphia add talent up front, it’s clear that the club will rely heavily on their two sophomore strikers next season. Le Toux will be counted on to lead the charge once again, but the performance of McInerney and Mwanga will go a long way towards determining how soon the Union are able to make their first-ever playoff appearance.
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