Eight games into the season, Mikael Uhre hasn’t scored a goal for the team yet. And the angst among Union fans, whether in the Subaru Park stands or on social media, is hard to miss.
Uhre has played in five games so far, a total of 288 minutes, and has started the last three. He didn’t even register a shot in Saturday’s 1-1 home tie with Montreal.
So, never mind that the Union are still in first place in the Eastern Conference, and are tied with surprising Austin FC for the second-best points-per-game average leaguewide. Just like fans worry about every other Philly team when things aren’t perfect, now it’s the Union’s turn.
What does Uhre think about his drought? It turns out the answer is the obvious one.
“Of course, it’s always frustrating — you’re a striker, you want to score goals,” Uhre told The Inquirer this week. “It’s also important that I don’t stress too much. … I didn’t really have a preseason, so I had to build up my body, I had to build up my mentality once again.”
He has a point about the lack of a preseason, an issue forced by U.S. visa processing delays. And when Uhre got here, the Union’s coaching staff was so eager to play him that they rushed his fitness buildup, leading to a minor hamstring injury that forced him out of two games in March.
When Uhre finally made his first Union start, against Columbus on April 10, he hadn’t started a game since a Dec. 12 Danish Cup game for his previous club, Brøndby. That was the last game he played before the Union bought him at the end of January.
“You need to build things, and you also need not to rush it and don’t get too frustrated,” he said. “Because of course there’s going to be something missing when you haven’t played a game for four months.”
It’s clear from watching Uhre play that he’s got speed in his feet and the right instincts in his brain, key parts at each end of his 6-foot-2 frame. And his chemistry is growing fast with Julián Carranza and Dániel Gazdag, the other players in the Union’s top attacking trio.
“Chemistry is some of the only things that you can’t really buy,” Uhre said. “I really think that we’re starting to see some really good patterns, but I think it can be so much better. Because I really think we have a good chemistry — I think we understand each other really well, but it’s just a matter of time before it starts clicking.”
At the same time, Uhre has been learning about the many playing styles teams across Major League Soccer use. A lot of European leagues don’t have as much tactical diversity as MLS has, from high-pressing to slow-it-down possession to sitting back and countering. The last of those is what Uhre ran into last weekend, when Montreal played some stretches with a five-defender back line.
» READ MORE: Union lack attacking spark in 1-1 tie with Montreal
“The defenses are quite good, but I think it’s a more open game than I’m used to,” Uhre said of the league overall. “Sometimes they think a bit differently than the defenders I’ve faced in the past maybe thought. … In Denmark, I played for eight years, and I kind of knew every player I was facing, what were their strengths, what were their weaknesses.”
But he also made a point of emphasizing: “I try to research as much as possible, but of course, it’s also about finding the right level of fitness first. Because as I said, I missed the preseason.”
Uhre’s research for this weekend will be easier than for others, because Nashville’s roster includes one of his old Brøndby teammates. Hany Mukhtar isn’t a centerback, to be sure, but the German playmaker is an outstanding talent: 19 goals and 10 assists in 33 games last year, and 2 goals and 2 assists through 8 games this year.
Nashville’s other star is a centerback: Walker Zimmerman, who could be one of the U.S. national team’s starters at the World Cup this fall.
On Friday, the club gave both players contract extensions, keeping Mukhtar as a Designated Player and upgrading Zimmerman’s deal to make him a DP.
This weekend, they will be joined by a cast worthy of the Opry. A crowd of 30,000 fans will jam the stands for at the opening of the city’s new soccer stadium, GEODIS Park.
“Hany is a really good player … I sat next to him in Brondby, so it’s of course going to be special seeing him again,” Uhre said. “But I just like a good game; it’s going to be exciting, and hopefully we can ruin their party.”
August game time changed
The Union’s Aug. 31 home game against Atlanta United has been moved from a 7:30 p.m. start time to just after 7 p.m., to accommodate being picked up for a national TV broadcast on FS1, and Fox Deportes.