Fifty-five minutes into the 1-0 game against Columbus last Saturday, Alejandro Bedoya lofted a long ball over the top from midfield. Mikael Uhre jogged five yards behind center back Jonathan Mensah, but as the ball hung up in the air, Uhre snuck inside, shielding the Crew defender with his body, settled the ball with a delicate touch off his thigh without breaking stride, and struck the ball through the legs of Eloy Room.
Inches. That’s how close Mikael Uhre came again to notching his first goal for the Philadelphia Union had it not been saved by Room’s backside. The former Brøndby talisman made his first start for the club since arriving in late February, and though he went 76 minutes without a goal, fans saw again why he fits the Union system so well and why his first goal will be sure to trigger a flurry goals to come.
“Compared to what I’ve been through before, it’s quite open,” Uhre told the media following the Columbus game about the shift from Europe to MLS. “There’s a lot of spaces and people want to play directly forward and that suits my game.”
Playing alongside Julian Carranza, Uhre found plenty of space off the shoulders of Mensah and Milos Degenek, and together the Union strikers created numerous opportunities for each other and for Daniel Gazdag, who filled in from behind. But with less than 90 minutes playing together, the relationship between the Union top-three still needs time to develop.
“I’m really looking forward to getting more minutes, so I can start getting to know the other guys better and obviously that will create more chances.”
Though strikers may be judged with a critical eye on the number of goals scored or the lack thereof, Uhre has shown he can also be a creator. In the 33rd minute against Columbus, Uhre broke down the right side, pulling away from left back Pedro Santos, who blocked Uhre’s initial cross. But as the Union striker recovered the ball, he turned and whipped in a curling cross to the back post that swerved away from Room and hit a surprised Carranza in the chest.
During a five-minute spell in the second half when the Union created three early chances to put the game away, Uhre found himself in the mix of the action. In the 51st minute, Uhre combined with Bedoya on a one-two down the right side, with Uhre drawing two defenders and backheeling the ball to spring Bedoya free.
Three minutes, later, Uhre led a Union press that resulted in a turnover in the attacking-third. After winning the ball, Uhre laid a pass back to Leon Flach, cut across the box, and received the ball behind the defense just outside the six yard box. Though he rushed his shot and blasted it into the stands, Uhre highlighted his ability to strike quickly on turnovers, something the Union will continue to do often in the attacking-third.
“He did a great job,” Union coach Jim Curtin said about Uhre’s first start. “He made some plays that led to some really good transitions, some good hold up, and good flicks that kept plays alive for us. Then you see his power and strength to get behind in behind.” In 122 minutes, two- thirds as a substitute, Uhre has 4 shots, 2 of them on target and 1 missing by inches, something Curtin feels will eventually lead to goals. “He had a couple good looks to get that second goal, but I’m sure that will come with time. Overall, really happy with the debut that he had, again, everybody’s going to get better and better each game, the more they get minutes together. I think the reps are important and today was a really good first step.”
Although Sergio Santos has scored 6 goals in 6 games against Toronto, Curtin will likely start Uhre and Carranza again in an effort to build the attacking chemistry moving forward. Toronto will be without starting center back Carlos Salcedo, who took a late red card in Toronto’s 2-2 draw with Real Salt Lake. The last time Toronto was without Salcedo, coach Bob Bradley used a center back pairing of Lukas MacNaughton and Michael Bradley in a back-four, but we could see a back-three that includes Chris Mavinga or Shane O’Neill.
Either way, with Uhre and Carranza against a semi-disjointed back line on the road, while the press is clicking and the team has gone 418 minutes without conceding a goal, the likelihood of Uhre scoring his first goal in a Union jersey looks promising. And once that happens, fans can expect the floodgates to open.