It’s one of those nights Union manager John Hackworth probably won’t forget anytime soon.
In what was the quintessential “against all odds” situation, the Union – for the second game in a row – received a goal from an unlikely source to pull crucial points in a continued push for the playoffs.
Union forward Jack McInerney snapped his 17-game scoring slump with a beautiful header at the edge of stoppage time to preserve a 1-1 draw against D.C. United at RFK Stadium.
With a well-timed run to the back post, McInerney snapped down a header to score his 11th goal of the season, and to sit tied with fellow forward Conor Casey for the team lead. The goal nullified one in the 36th minute from D.C. United’s Nick DeLeon, who took advantage of space in front of him and wet turf, courtesy of a steady downpour, to unleash a 35-yard rocket past MacMath.
In elation, McInerney picked up a yellow card for excessive celebration, but with the frustration that was lifted with one snap of his head, the infraction was the least of his concerns.
And apparently so was his shirt, which he ripped off in celebration.
“It’s been tough, you know? And the longer I went the more frustrating it got,” said McInerney, postgame. “But you have to keep fighting and pushing; I have proven that I can score, so I just needed to keep my head up and now that I have this one, I just hope that I can get this going.
McInerney proved to be one of Hackworth’s savviest decisions of the night, making the 21-year-old his final substitution looking for a last gasp of offense – assuredly hoping that if McInerney were looking to break out of his funk, it would be against a team that earlier in the season he was the hero against.
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Albeit against a struggling rival, it was a positive result given Hackworth had more to deal with throughout the match than perhaps ever this entire season. For starters, Hackworth was without two of his own in starting right back Sheanon Williams and Brazilian midfielder Fabinho due to suspension. Just 16 minutes into the affair with an already shuffled lineup, reliable utility man Sebastien Le Toux was forced to leave the match after the nagging bout of plantar fasciitis he’s been battling made it tough for him to keep pace.
Mind you, Le Toux; customarily a forward-midfielder started the match at right back to fill the void.
Enter then Matt Kassel, for Le Toux who played just four MLS matches this season.
“We were dealing with a lot of changes this week, but we also need to realize that D.C. is a much better team than people realize,” said Hackworth. “The expectations that we were going to come in and automatically get three points were unrealistic at this point; but with that said, I don’t think our guys came out and approached the game the way they should’ve in the first half, and it hurt us.”
Despite the point, The Union (12-10-10, 46 points) sit below the playoff bubble as Chicago leapfrogged by virtue of a win over FC Dallas Saturday. The Union travel to Montreal next Saturday for a 2 p.m. showdown at Stade Saputo (TV: The Comcast Network) before returning for the season finale at PPL Park against Sporting Kansas City (3 p.m., purchase tickets). Montreal, despite sitting in good position in the East suffered a 1-0 loss against surging New England earlier Saturday. Hackworth knows that much like his squad, in a continued effort to make the MLS postseason, Montreal’s back is very much against the wall.
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“The one thing Montreal has going for them is that they are at home next week,” said Hackworth. “But we’ve been a good road team; I think coming back in the road here [against D.C. United] was a massive thing. We’ll be at full strength somewhat…and we plan to have our guys rested and ready this week so that we can come out and put on a better performance.”
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Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org