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Mikael Uhre impresses in Philadelphia Union debut

Uhre made his debut in the 67th minute in Montreal

Philadelphia Union v CF Montreal Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Fans caught their first glimpse of Mikael Uhre Saturday afternoon in the Union’s 2-1 win over CF Montréal. And the future looks good.

In the 67th minute, with the Union leading, Uhre stepped onto the field for the first time as the club’s most expensive player in history. Uhre had a dream scenario in which he could sit in and wait for his opportunity on the counter, but four minutes later, referee Drew Fischer handed Julián Carranza his second yellow card, and the Union switched to a 5-3-1 to preserve the lead, leaving Uhre alone up top, working more defensively to slow Montreal’s progress out of the back. In previous seasons, when the Union played a man down, they appeared to be playing two or three men down, but on Saturday Uhre showed his class in creating two scoring chances out of nothing.

Uhre, who began training with the team early last week after over a month of visa delays, was the Danish Super League Player of the Year and Golden Boot winner last season and had been the leading scorer this season before his transfer. In his 26 games, he scored 14 times, 11 of them coming in 16 league appearances. In his 22-minute appearance against Montréal, he nearly scored twice.

Uhre’s first chance came in the 76th minute after a quick change of possession led to Alejandro Bedoya playing a first-time ball over Montréal defender Kamal Miller’s head. Uhre, anticipating the miss, latched onto the end of it with a burst of speed. The first bounce went three feet over Uhre’s head, introducing him to 1970s multi-purpose stadium turf. Yet he managed to settle the ball with his chest and nudge it forward with a knee, using his body to fend off Alistair Johnston. Uhre took a volley off the hop and fired low to the near post, missing by inches.

Bedoya commented after the game on adjusting to his new teammate. “One of the things we talked about is that he likes to get in behind,” Bedoya said. “Obviously, he had two great quality chances, but as soon as I got that ball, that second ball, I knew that I wanted to hit it over the top and that he was going to get there. He actually took a great first touch. It was a little bit bouncy on this crap field, but he did well with it.”

Despite the miss, Bedoya had no reservations about Uhre’s ability to finish. “Those goals will come. He’s got to get his feet under him. I’m sure he’s exhausted this having been his debut a man down running all over, but you saw some of his strengths.”

In the 90th minute, Uhre broke free again, this time after the Union forced a turnover and played a quick combination to set up a counter. Olivier Mbazio pushed the ball forward to Uhre, who beat the Montréal center back Rudy Camacho with a well-timed diagonal run. The pass slowed in the turf, but Uhre pushed the ball forward with his first touch, accelerated away from Camacho with his second touch, and tried to tuck the ball past Sebastian Breza on the near side. This time, Breza made a sprawling leg save to deny Uhre’s first goal.

Union coach Jim Curtin was pleased with his new striker’s performance. “I joked to him and said, look MLS, especially at the end of games, gets crazy,” Curtin said. “You’ll get 10 to 15 breakaways if we’re doing our job and playing you through.” Curtin also said Uhre’s eagerness to score may have overlooked Quinn Sullivan in front of goal on his second opportunity. “If I’m being critical, I think he was excited,” Curtin said of the second chance. “Maybe he just slides it across and we get the tap-in, but you can never fault a striker for going for goal.”

What does Uhre’s performance mean for the Union moving forward?

In the first two games of the season, the Union had a stronger commitment to defending higher up the field. The tactical shift enhances the team’s ability to pressure the ball in the offensive third, counter-press, and advance the ball quickly. We’ve seen already how Carranza fits that role. He has a strong presence holding the ball, maintaining possession, but in Daniel Gazdag’s winner Saturday, Carranza’s ability to move horizontally added an element the Union missed in previous seasons.

With Sergio Santos a constant vertical threat, a one-man counter-attack, and Cory Burke an immense danger in the box on crosses, the Union now have two strikers in Uhre and Carranza who look to get behind and between the defensive back four, which will open more room for a second striker and attacking midfielder to operate in the spaces left over.

It wasn’t the perfect scenario we’d hoped for in Uhre’s debut, but we saw his instincts and dynamic movement as well as the speed and power to get beyond defenders. Uhre will need some time to adjust to the style of MLS, but even in his brief appearance, it’s clear he has the potential to score at least 10 goals this season and realistically more than 15, which will put him among MLS leaders. The only remaining question that needs answering is whether Uhre now completes the MLS Cup puzzle.