Jack McInerney scored his first goal at PPL Park in MLS play Saturday against Houston.
Greg Carroccio

McInerney hoping to land Olympic spot despite age

When Philadelphia Union striker Jack McInerney looked around at the other players competing for a spot on the US U-23 Olympic qualifying team, he was keenly aware that he was one of the youngest players in camp.

He was also aware that his age shouldn’t make a difference.

“Sometimes it’s in the back of my mind,” McInerney told MLSsoccer.com via phone during the camp in Lakewood Ranch, Fla., which wrapped up this past Friday. “But it doesn’t really matter about age right now. I know it’s something that’s there, but I just can’t think too much about it.”

Of the 30 players called into head coach Caleb Porter’s camp, only two were younger than the 19-year-old McInerney – West Ham midfielder Sebastian Lletget and Hoffenheim forward Joseph Gyau, both of whom were born a month after the Union striker.

But then, McInerney is used to being one of the youngest guys on the field.

Despite turning pro right after high school, the Georgia native has been an important contributor for the Union in his first two MLS seasons, scoring three goals in 350 minutes during his rookie campaign before earning 558 minutes and five starts in 2011.

McInerney scored just one goal this past season but was still a dangerous weapon up top. In the Union’s first-ever playoff game, he came off the bench and hit the crossbar, leading manager Peter Nowak to play him all 90 minutes in the second leg of the series against Houston.

The young striker also has plenty of national team experience, having previously played at the U-15, U-17 and U-20 levels.

However, McInerney missed out on his last opportunity at participating in an international tournament. He was left off the US roster for the 2011 CONCACAF U-20 Championship, even after scoring a goal and setting up another in a U-20 friendly leading up to the tournament.

The snub, he admitted, hurt.

“It definitely sucks and it motivates me a little bit,” said McInerney, who arrived at the U-23 camp directly from the Generation adidas tour of the Netherlands. “But I understand it’s two different coaches and I just didn’t fit the last coach’s system. So it’s kind of a fresh slate coming into this one.”

And now he is focused exclusively on impressing a new coach, even if he’s one of only a handful of teenagers Porter is looking at for his Olympic squad.

“You’ve just got to make the team,” McInerney said, “and do what you can to help.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.