Nearly two weeks since the Union made their acquisition of Mikael Uhre official, the Danish striker still has yet to arrive at the team’s preseason training camp.
Union manager Jim Curtin said Tuesday that Uhre is still dealing with visa issues. Curtin tried to be polite about it, but his frustration was pretty clear.
“I’m probably just like you, I hope he gets here as soon as possible,” Curtin said in his weekly news conference from the team’s preseason base in Clearwater, Fla. “We’re just kind of in a holding pattern there, and at the mercy of the government [for] getting him into the country as quickly as possible. But we’ve done everything on our side, all the paperwork’s been filed; we’re just kind of in a waiting game.”
Olivier Mbaizo and Jamiro Monteiro also still aren’t in camp yet, the former as he recovers from a long Africa Cup of Nations campaign and the latter as he deals with visa issues for his family. At least, as Curtin noted, they got plenty of work in during the event. Mbaizo’s Cameroon lost in the semifinals, and he made his only start of the tournament in the third-place game. Monteiro’s Cape Verde lost to eventual champion Senegal in the round of 16.
Jack Elliott is still not playing in preseason games because of a minor groin strain. He was held out of Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Club de Foot Montréal, a closed-door scrimmage that was played as a 120-minute contest so all participants could be on the field for 60 minutes.
“If you can picture the quarterback that you see wearing the red jersey [to avoid contact in a NFL practice], he’s been participating like that,” Curtin said. “We’ll take that off him, hopefully, fully tomorrow, and he’ll return to full training tomorrow. I think he’ll be ready to go for these next two weeks, and then the build into obviously the most important thing, which is [the Feb. 26 opener against] Minnesota.”
A special guest from Liverpool
The Union have been hosting Thomas Grønnemark, an assistant coach from English power Liverpool, this week. A Denmark native, he was connected to the team by way of sporting director Ernst Tanner’s deep Rolodex.
Grønnemark has been working with famed Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp since the summer of 2018. He’s become famous in his own right since then for a very specific coaching specialty: throw-ins.
The goal, Curtin said, is to have fewer throw-ins be plays in which either team could come away with possession, and more that ensure the Union keep the ball.
“At its most basic, we work so hard to win the ball, and then we have a throw-in situation. Why do we give it back so much, almost at a 50% rate to the other team, and just throw it up in the air for a 50/50?” Curtin said. “Every little advantage that we can find, we’re going to utilize, and if we can get a little bit better, that one percentage more of creating more chances and keeping more possession I think goes a long way over the course of the [regular season’s] 34 games.”
Other stops in Grønnemark’s career include Denmark’s Viborg and Midtjlland, the Netherlands’ Ajax, Belgium’s Gent, and Germany’s RB Leipzig — the last of which is part of how he got connected to Tanner.
Reserves in camp, too
Players who will be on the Union’s reserve team this year are also part of the preseason camp. We don’t know who they all are yet, but we know there will be a mix of academy products, current academy players, and international signings. Teams will be allowed 35 players on their reserve rosters, of which 24 must be professionals and up to 11 can be amateurs. A maximum of five amateurs per team may be on the field in a game at any given time.
Notably, there is no salary cap in the new MLS Next Pro league where the reserve team will play with other reserve teams along with a few others. That gives clubs wide latitude with how they build their reserve squads, especially when it comes to international prospects.
“I think it’s going to be a special league — I think it’s also going to be a little bit of the Wild West in terms of this is our first time all going through it,” Curtin said. “You could see certain teams maybe utilize it to stash, you know, really, really expensive young players, and when the moment’s right, move them up to the first team.”
Curtin didn’t say whether the Union would do that, but don’t be surprised if the team tries it. The team’s pursuit of 17-year-old Venezuelan José Riasco is one example, as the deal could come with a $1 million transfer fee for a very highly-rated prospect.