The Match You’ve Been Waiting For

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This is it: the first meeting between dearly departed Union striker Jack McInerney and newly arrived striker-in-waiting, Andrew Wenger. When Philadelphia meets Montreal on Saturday (4 p.m., TCN), a central story line will be how the two recently traded forwards stack-up against each other head-to-head and whether a clear winner in the controversial swap will begin to emerge. So far, it’s been more or less a toss-up.

As every Union supporter is well aware, Wenger and McInerney switched sides two weeks ago in a deal that had jaws dropping across Union Nation. McInerney had spent the last couple of seasons scoring a lot of goals for Philadelphia and selling a lot of jerseys. But a lack of production recently along with contract concerns for next year led to a deal that rattled a lot of nerves, despite a good measure of potential upside. The Union is hoping Wenger’s extra size and different skill set will play better in Philadelphia’s normal group-attacking style. But while both youngsters scored in their first games after the switch, the initial results for their respective clubs have been sketchy.

Wenger, featured prominently up front in all three matches as Philadelphia tries to quickly press him into the team’s scoring mold, has gone from having his name chanted by the Sons of Ben after his brilliant Game 1 goal, to enduring at least some degree of wrath after passing-up a shot opportunity last weekend in favor of a pass into traffic. He team isn’t scoring enough this year and Wenger, it appeared, tossed away the afternoon’s best chance.

McInerney, meanwhile, was reduced to a 56th minute substitution role last weekend in Kansas City after scoring his new club’s only goal the week before. I can’t find any explanation in Montreal media reports as to the reasoning behind the move, but it backfired. According to sportingkc.com, McInerney recorded no shots in his half-hour of play and had only 7 touches instead of his usual 29. Montreal was systematically dismantled 4-0, failing to record a single shot in the entire second half. What’s more, Montreal coach Frank Klopas (who is spending the Canadian spring on thin ice according to some media suggestions), chose to add his new striker as a replacement for established goal-man Marco Di Vaio, even though the two forwards connected on McInerney’s goal seven days earlier.

In all fairness to Impact fans, somebody should really tap Frank on the shoulder this week and tell him to start Jack against Philadelphia. Montreal is not playing exciting soccer this season. This pairing of would-be giants would inject some much-desired interest.

THE MONTREAL MATCH

Yet again, the Union finds itself with a grand opportunity for points against a floundering opponent. And yet again, there’s no telling whether they’ll actually seize it. Philadelphia continues to play long stretches of quality soccer with close-but-no-cigar results. Lately, they’ve mixed-in some alarming stretches of bad play, too (example: last week’s first half in which they were out shot at home by a bad Houston club 12-1). In a vacuum, the Montreal match should have Philadelphia fans licking their chops. The Impact lost their first three tilts this season before stringing together three uninspiring draws. Then came the thumping last week in America’s heartland. The expansion club’s 0-4-3 start is easily its worst in three years of existence. Di Vaio, last season’s scoring star, isn’t scoring. Neither is anyone else.

If only we could simply close our eyes and pretend that all those shiny new pieces Philadelphia acquired during the off-season were firing on all cylinders, this would be a throw away game with plenty of guaranteed dooping on the family room sofa. Of course, there’s been more clunk than click when it comes to the Union scoring effort so far this season, which means we’re probably in for another afternoon of worn fingernails and frayed nerves.

But for now, let’s rev-up the optimism machine. I’ll remind everyone that the season is only 8 games along and that in the past, 8 games is about all it has taken for new players to get acclimated. What’s more, we have very likely not yet seen the best of Andrew Wenger, as he is only three games in with this group. Theoretically (if you buy my theories, anyway), there is reason to believe that better times are just around the goal post.

MACMATH STANDING STRONG

Does anyone know the MLS record for consecutive penalty kicks saved? If I wasn’t the weather guy over here at 6abc and had the time and credentials to pester the league office on this point, I would, because I’m thinking Zac MacMath may have bagged it. His two recent PK stops against Chicago and Salt Lake City not only came in consecutive starts, but only about 6 minutes apart in terms of on-field playing time. That has to be a record.

AMAZING…

Amazing as it may seem after all the recent draws and scant point pick-ups, the Union can technically still find themselves tied for first place in the MLS Eastern Conference with a win on Saturday. The East, where “Tie One On” has become the conference rally cry, saw three more draws last weekend, bringing the East’s tie total to an incredible 27. Philadelphia’s 1-2-5 record has them in 6th place currently, but only 3 points behind both Kansas City and Columbus. K.C. may not be catchable this season. Columbus is—and maybe this is the week it happens for Philadelphia.

MONTREAL’S “SECOND” HOME OPENER

This week’s game will be the Impact’s first of the season at Stade Saputo after two earlier “home” matches next door at sprawling Olympic Stadium where the Expos and Phillies used to play. The move to the enclosed Stade Olympique, I believe, was made to make things more comfortable for fans during Montreal’s normally wintry March weather. But even the dome couldn’t prevent problems. The Impact’s first game was still postponed one day because of an unsafe amount of snow that had piled-up on that funky, cable-supported, textile roof. According the Montreal Gazette, it was the 19th time in the stadium’s history that a winter event had to be postponed because of too much of the white stuff. Saturday’s forecast? Cloudy with rain showers. No snow.

YO! WHERE DID ALL THE WOMEN GO?

Montreal is struggling this season and that’s led to some creative marketing efforts. This week on the Impact’s website is an item called “21 Reasons To Be At Stade Saputo This Weekend.” My favorite? Hey, single girls! Stade Saputo is actually THE best place to meet guys. It’s a 100 to 1 ratio! Hmm. This is only a personal observation, but I’m pretty sure we get a lot more ladies at PPL Park. Just sayin’.

SHORT-TIMER JACK?

Another item on impactmontreal.com was written by a reporter who followed ex-Union striker Jack McInerney around town as he shopped for an apartment. What, no condo, Jack? Oh yeah, condos are for people who are planning to hang around for a while. I thought Union fans who have suspected that McInerney’s true desire is to bolt for Europe as soon as possible might be interested to hear this tid-bit.

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