Living the Dream at Seventeen

By Craig Chamberlain

At 17,  Jack McInerney is the youngest player on the Philadelphia Union and he is, by all accounts, living his dream.  He is playing soccer at the highest levels. McInerney is among a select group of 21 players that are 17 years old or younger in Major League Soccer.  And, judging by his performance so far, this Chattanooga, Tennessee native looks to become a core part of the club under the direction of Philadelphia Union coach Piotr Nowak.

“Always wanting to be the best player you can be,” that’s the mantra Jack McInerney trains by.  Sacrifice, commitment, moving away from home too chase your dreams, these are just a few examples of the level of commitment it took for McInerney to climb his way through the ranks of US Youth Soccer.

McInerney started playing travel soccer at the age of seven in Georgia for the Cobb Soccer Club. His unique abilities made him a standout and in 2004 he was encouraged to try out for the Georgia 91 Olympic Development Program (
ODP) but he only made the second team. But McInerney was always persistent about proving himself at the ODP level because he knew, even at an early age, that it would be an avenue to achieve his goals and get noticed. In 2005 he tried out again for ODP.  McInerney became known for his finishing abilities and was invited to try out for the Regional ODP team.  McInerney and his father made the long five hour drive from Georgia to Mississippi for the tryouts. He did not make the team. “That was the worst car ride home ever,” said McInerney.   “I felt bad because I knew that to make it to the national team and achieve my goals I had to first make the regional team.” At the next tryouts he would not be disappointed.  McInerney was selected to the South Region ODP team.

McInerney was now playing with the top players in the Regional system and he had his sights set on U.S. National team. This time he was not going to be disappointed. In 2007 he made the U.S. Under-15 Men’s National team then later that same year was invited to attend the Residency Program for the U.S. Under-17 National team where he would continue to impress coaches.

The Residency Program is the pinnacle of U.S. Youth Soccer. The best players from around the country train for the Under-17 World Cup while living on campus at the
IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL. It’s a state of the art facility where the team regularly uses strength-training facilities, top-of-the-line soccer equipment, three Bermuda grass fields, an indoor dome with artificial turf, two swimming pools, newly renovated student housing and dining facilities as they attend classes at Bradenton Preparatory Academy.

“We played, trained and went to school everyday with the same group of guys” said McInerney. “It’s a big sacrifice being away from home for two years.”

McInerney scored two goals in the Under-17 World Cup and was named the National Soccer Coaches Association of America National Youth Player of the Year in 2009.

McInerney’s hard work, determination and sacrifice rewarded him with the chance to become eligible in the
MLS draft.  He was now faced with the decision of whether to play soccer in college or turn professional.

“I would just say if soccer is what you want to do for a living then the professional life is the way you go,” said McInerney.  “This is a way of getting better sooner and getting much more experience under your belt as opposed to turning professional at a later age.  A down side of it is that you may lack in other aspects of your education, but ultimately the decision is just personal preference.”

McInerney decided to turn professional and was drafted in the first round – 7th overall in the 2010
MLS SuperDraft by the Philadelphia Union.  “I was drafted into the MLS with the designation of “Generation adidas” signee.  They [adidas] take care of you if you want to return to school at a later date.”  

McInerney is one of just a small percentage of players who make it to the professional level.  Of all the youth soccer players across the country, the odds of them reaching the
MLS are slim.  If your child has talent like McInerney then the avenues are there to rise through the system. On the other hand, the lessons we can take from Jack McInerney carry over into all facets of life.  Hard work, conviction, sacrifice, focus are all common traits that define success.