Jack McInerney finally breaks through, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for Philadelphia (video)

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June 1 was the last time Jack McInerney scored in Major League Soccer. In the interim, he’s been called up to the U.S. Men’s National Team (Gold Cup), been labeled the American Chicharito, lost his spot in Philadelphia’s starting lineup, and shed the label of American Chicharito. He hasn’t been inconsistent. He’s been bipolar. His 2013 has been an extreme high (10 goals in his first 13 games) followed by a demoralizing low (1044 scoreless minutes).

That all turned around Saturday night. With his team minutes away from what would have been an embarrassing loss at D.C. United, McInerney attacked a Kleberson cross, hammering his 90th minute header down, equalizing Nick DeLeon’s first half blast. Whereas it looked like the Union were about to be dealt a huge setback to their playoff hopes, McInerney’s first goal in over five months salvaged a point for Philadelphia. (Highlight: above.)

The goal took what looked like D.C. United’s fourth win in 32 games and turned it into the result Philadelphia needed to re-leapfrog New England. The Revolution’s afternoon upset in Montréal temporarily vaulted Jay Heap’s team into fifth, but with the draw, Philadelphia moved back in front of New England.

[MORE: New England keeps playoff hopes alive with win in Montréal.]

(Philadelphia now has 46 points. New England has 45. The Revolution’s five-goal edge in goals scored would have given New England the tiebreaker advantage, with both teams having won 12 games. A win by Chicago Saturday night against Dallas would vault the Fire above both Philadelphia and New England.)

Bigger picture, the game wasn’t a great postseason audition for Philadelphia. In their defense, the Union came in short-handed, a situation that got worse when Sebastian Le Toux, pressed into service at right back, had to leave with a plantar fascia problem. Still, D.C. United is a terrible team, and although DeLeon’s long-range strike was a shot-in-the-dark, you’d think a playoff-caliber team would have enough to overcome that setback:

But that’s the big question about Philadelphia: Are they really what we think of when we say playoff-caliber team? When you see a team dependent on Conor Casey — one that seems to rely on their opponent’s mistakes rather than an ability to win games on their own — it’s hard to see Philadelphia as threat. Tonight’s game at RFK illustrated that. If Philadelphia can’t do more to distance themselves from a team with only three wins, are they going to be more dangerous in the postseason than New England or Chicago?

This is where you can insert your U.S. Open Cup caveat. Real Salt Lake lost to D.C. United. By my logic, should RSL be considered a playoff-caliber team, you could ask. The difference: For Real Salt Lake, that game was the exception; Philadelphia’s lived by these rules all season.

Unless New England or Chicago step up, those rules become a playoff formula for John Hackworth. His team didn’t get the points they could have used on Saturday, but with a draw against D.C. United, the Union stay in the hunt.

 

Mourinho has chance to make major statement in Manchester Derby

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The betting market says Man City is more than even money to beat Manchester United, and wagering on the latter to win Thursday’s derby match is a longer shot than the Red Devils finishing in the Top Four (an achievement to be sure).

The worth of those metrics is debatable, but allows a sincere thought: Given their thin depth and the road challenge, a win for Jose Mourinho would be as impressive as almost anything Manchester United has accomplished this season.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

Maybe that’s obvious to many of us, but a twirl through the spheres of United supporter social media shows something different. Many Red Devils are confident of their teams’ fortunes in Thursday’s Manchester Derby, with one even predicting a 3-1 win in a comment on the NBC Sports Soccer Facebook page.

That could be an outlier, sure, but shows the demands Manchester United supporters place on their big spending club. United won’t have Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, two of the best players in the world, and it’s not as if the club has had time to adjust to their absences. No one has played more minutes for United than Pogba and Ibrahimovic this season.

United is also without Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo, and Phil Jones at the heart of their defense as it attempts to shut down Sergio Aguero and/or Gabriel JesusDavid Silva is a doubt for City, who also may not have John Stones, but Guardiola has options.

How Mourinho attacks — or doesn’t attack — City, and how Guardiola sets up his XI, will be interesting leading into the match, because parking the bus lacks its usual luster given the center back carnage. Will Mourinho trot out Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera in a bid to clog the midfield? Will he run Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford as a strike pair?

The answers to these questions and the unlikely event of a United road win may end up shining all over Thursday. And while that win would wind up being overshadowed by United’s finish on the Premier League table and UEFA Europa League, there’s little doubt it would stake a serious claim for Mourinho’s time at United being on the rise.

Henry, Aguero discuss playing up top under Pep

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One great striker got another one to open up on an up-and-down year at Manchester City.

Thierry Henry — one of the greatest of all-time, it must be said — sat down with Sergio Aguero ahead of Thursday’s Manchester Derby at the Etihad Stadium, and asked the Argentine about Pep Guardiola, Gabriel Jesus, and more.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

At times, it’s a fascinating discussion on playing lone striker. Even apart from the obligatory questions regarding Jesus’ arrival at City, Henry and Aguero speak their craft in a manner you don’t see too often.

That’s helped by the fact that Henry played for Guardiola at Barcelona, and can relate to the positional demands of Man City’s boss. Consider this exchange, from Sky Sports:

HENRY: When I was at Arsenal, I played up front and if I wanted to drift out to the left, I could. But when I got to Barca, I had to stay out wide and press. Sometimes doing that can be hard.

AGUERO: The thing I’ve found the hardest has been getting into my head the fact that I have to press the centre-back and the goalkeeper in matches. That’s what Pep asks me to do. It may not be a big deal, but in terms of processing it, the two of us speak a lot. He knows what I’m like.

I’ve been gradually learning and adapting to that style of pressing over the last few months. The first thing he taught me was how to press and how to do it well. Obviously there are times when I might drift out of position or I might press in an area where I’m not supposed to be, which might make it hard for the wingers or midfielders.

In the game itself, I may not realise because I’m so immersed and you can’t stop yourself. I’ve learnt a lot from him in terms of zones. He asks me to play as a No 9 and to stay in that position. I often drift out wide during matches and he looks at me and says, “If there’s a player out wide who wants to cross it in, who’s in there? Nobody.”

HENRY: I know all about that, believe you me.

I love this, because it shows how difficult it is for an elite striker to adapt his mentality. Both Henry and Aguero found world-celebrated success by playing in a certain fashion, and Guardiola understood that and still demanded a change. Earlier this season, the manager somewhat famously spoke of improving Aguero.

Aguero has been linked with Real Madrid given the tumult at City.

PHOTO: Liverpool unveils 125th anniversary kit for next season

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Liverpool rolled out its 125th anniversary kit, featuring a special crest to celebrate the occasion.

The Liver bird has 1892 on one side and 2017 on the other, with “125 YEARS” spelled out underneath the club’s emblem.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

The red shirt with a gold crest has a white V-neck and white at the ends of the sleeves. The goalkeeper kit is green.

The jersey will be available on May 19, and was announced last month.

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Jara’s goal lifts Pachuca to CONCACAF Champions League crown

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Hirving Lozano’s dipping shot rebounded into the path of Franco Jara, who scored the goal that won Pachuca its fifth CONCACAF Championship early Thursday morning.

The Argentine’s goal was the only one of the win over UANL Tigres, and gave Pachuca its first continental title since 2009-10. USMNT veteran Omar Gonzalez played for the winners, while Jose Torres started for Tigres.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

Major League Soccer teams were eliminated in the semifinals, with FC Dallas falling to Pachuca and Vancouver Whitecaps losing to Tigres.

Beginning with the 2017-18 tournament, qualified MLS and Liga MX teams will not enter the tournament until the Round of 16. The entire tournament will be held in the same calendar year.