Can Mikael Uhre spark the Union’s attacking play against Chicago?

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Star striker and Designated Player (more on that later) Mikael Uhre was brought to the Union shortly before the 2022 season to be the answer to the team’s inconsistent goal-scoring.

It’s easy to see what attracted the Union to him: he had scored 11 goals in 16 appearances to that point in the Danish Superliga season (14 goals from 26 appearances in all competitions), which led the league, following up on the previous season where 13 goals in 22 league appearances (21 goals in 34 appearances in all competitions) won him both the Danish Superliga Golden Boot (league top scorer) and Danish Superliga Player of the Season (that one is self-explanatory) awards. After a 2021 season spent generating good chances that were too often spurned, the Union was after a striker who could reliably bury those chances in the back of the net.

CHESTER, PA – JULY 16: Philadelphia Union Forward Mikael Uhre (7) reacts to scoring a goal during the second half of the Major League Soccer Match between the New England Revolution and Philadelphia Union on July 16, 2022, at Subaru Park in Chester, PA. (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire)

Who is Mikael Uhre, Anyway?

Without getting too into the weeds on MLS roster rules, Designated Players (or DPs) are defined on the MLS website as players “whose total compensation and acquisition costs exceed the Maximum Salary Budget Charge, with the club bearing financial responsibility for the amount of compensation above each player’s Salary Budget Charge.”

In simpler terms, they can be paid more than the league’s maximum salary, without those extra costs counting against the team’s salary cap. Teams are limited to three DPs on their roster. This means that those players are particularly important; there are plenty of examples of poorly performing DPs tanking a team’s season.

Being counted as a DP on a Union team that has historically shied away from big-money signings (or big spending of any kind) naturally generated pressure on Uhre to perform. An injury-marred start to the season led to grumbling from some fans, but after bagging the first goal ever scored at Nashville’s new GEODIS Park stadium to open his Union account, he went on to finish the 2022 season with 13 goals and 6 assists in 27 appearances (21 starts).

As an added benefit, the entire Union front three of Uhre, Julián Carranza (a Young DP, which is a whole ‘nother can of worms), and Dániel Gazdag (whose MVP-caliber play in 2022 earned him the Union’s final DP slot for the 2023 season) developed great chemistry throughout the season, and, mirroring the mentality of the team as a whole, were able to step up as a collective in a way that eased the pressure on any one individual.

After being with the team for a year, and perhaps just as importantly, having an entire preseason to get back up to speed and rediscover his chemistry with Carranza and Gazdag, expectations for Uhre heading into the 2023 season were, if anything, even higher than last year. Many fans were expecting the entire front three to compete for the MLS Golden Boot this year.

Uhre’s 2023 Season So Far

It’s safe to say Mikael Uhre has not started the 2023 season firing on all cylinders. While it’s difficult to gauge any player’s overall performance just three games into the season (one of which, Tuesday night’s CONCACAF Champions League match at Salvadoran side Alianza FC, Uhre didn’t even play in), it can be tempting to sound the alarm when a striker has yet to score. And there is some merit to that concern because Uhre has gotten into scoring position a few times, but, according to the Union website, has only generated a single shot (which was off target).

While we measure strikers by the goals they score, there are other ways they can contribute, and one way Uhre has done so is by making runs that stretch the defense. These runs pull defenders back to create more space for the Union’s midfield, as his speed makes it difficult for defenders to simply play in line with him.

Looking at the Union’s second goal in their opening match against Columbus, Uhre (and Carranza) make runs that serve the dual purpose of creating space and time for Gazdag to advance the ball and providing options for him to lay it off. In the end, they also flow smoothly into the far post (Uhre) and near post (Carranza) runs for Union captain Alejandro Bedoya to pick out with a cross that Carranza scores. While he didn’t get the goal, Uhre still played the situation exactly how he should have.

Expectations Against Chicago and for Union’s ’23 season

Part of the pressure heading into the game against Chicago comes from Gazdag (from penalties) and Carranza scoring 2 goals apiece in the home opener against Columbus. With Joaquin Torres playing well enough to merit more game time, Uhre comes into this weekend looking to prove he can keep up with, and possibly outscore, his fellow starting attackers.

To do this, however, will require him to stay on the field, which up to now he has had trouble doing. Uhre has never completed a full 90 minutes for the Union, and although that can partly be blamed on injuries last season, going forward he will have to prove his fitness levels if he is going to contribute at the level Carranza and Gazdag have.

I’m expecting Uhre to come out firing (no pun intended) this weekend after being rested in the midweek Champions League game. I’m calling for a 3-0 Union win*, with Uhre burning Chicago by bagging a brace (that one was intended, and I’m sorry). We’ll be hearing chants of “Uhre, Mikael Uhre” booming around Subaru Park plenty this season, and don’t be surprised if that starts this weekend.

*I’m predicting Gazdag to grab the other Union goal to keep his tally just ahead of his fellow attackers, as his MVP snub revenge tour continues.

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Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire