In January 2022, Major League Soccer club Philadelphia Union broke their record transfer fee to sign striker Mikael Uhre for $2.8 million. Philadelphia, one of the strongest teams in MLS, had become one of the league’s most exciting teams. They had accomplished this despite a low budget and depending mainly on academy players.
Despite their success, Philadelphia had struggled to find a quality striker for years. Their top goalscorer in 2021, Kacper Przybyłko, managed just 12 goals in 34 games. Uhre, signed from Danish side Brøndby IF, was expected to be the missing piece. More importantly, he would be the man who would help the club win their second major trophy.
Uhre was everything the club needed. He was one of few players in the club with European experience, having played 139 games in Denmark’s top flight, the Superligaen. In the 2020/21 season, he had excelled, scoring 19 goals — the most in the league — as Brøndby won the title for the first time in over 15 years. The hardworking striker even earned his first cap for Denmark, coming on as a substitute in a loss to Scotland.
Since MLS is a summer league, European signings usually require time to adjust. Most European leagues would usually be ending when the MLS starts, resulting in player fatigue and no rest. Philadelphia’s Hungarian midfielder Daniel Gazdag, for instance, struggled in his debut season, scoring just four times. In his second season, he scored 22 goals.
Because of this, few were panicking when Uhre failed to find the back of the net in his first five games with the Union. Yes, he missed some big chances, but, as the season progressed, Uhre started to gain confidence and improve. By the end of the regular season, he had scored 13 goals. However, he again struggled in the playoffs, scoring zero goals in three games as Philadelphia lost the MLS Cup Final on penalties.
Season two had all the makings of Uhre’s breakout season. Philadelphia managed to keep essentially the entire squad, with the only major losses being players who would’ve competed with Uhre — strikers Sergio Santos and Corey Burke, and attacking midfielder Paxten Aaronson. Additionally, Uhre was now familiar with the league and his teammates, and, playoffs aside, had ended the season on a high.
However, it soon became apparent that Uhre was struggling. Philadelphia reached the semi-finals of the CONCACAF Champions League, losing to LAFC — and Uhre failed to score in all five games he played. In MLS, he scored a hat trick and a brace — but those were his only goals in the first 14 MLS games. He managed another two goals in his next eight league games before the regular season was interrupted for the Leagues Cup.
Philadelphia easily progressed from the group stage, winning twice with a combined score of 8-2. Uhre came off the bench in the opener, playing 30 minutes, and started the second match, but again couldn’t score. He started the first round of the knockouts — a 0-0 match Philadelphia won on penalties. He came off the bench in the next match, which Philadelphia again won on penalties. Once more, no goal from Uhre.
Philadelphia played Querétaro FC in the quarter-finals and were expecting to thrash the Liga MX club. After all, they had already won 5-1 against them just two weeks earlier. However, Philadelphia struggled, and Uhre was subbed off after an hour in favor of the inexperienced Chris Donovan. Donovan was the hero, scoring the winner in the 101st minute. Manager Jim Curtin was not exactly pleased with Uhre.
In the semi-finals, Philadelphia played Lionel Messi and Inter Miami CF — arguably the biggest match in Subaru Park history. With the other starting striker, Julián Carranza, missing with an injury, Uhre was expected to start alongside Donovan. However, Curtin changed tactics completely, lining up in an unusual 5-4-1, with Donovan as the lone striker. Philadelphia was thrashed 4-1, with Uhre playing a forgettable 45 minutes after coming on at the half.
Uhre is now the odd man out in Philadelphia. Julián Carranza, signed the same window as Uhre, has become the team’s unquestioned star striker, bagging 29 goals since joining. Behind him is Chris Donovan, a former college striker promoted from the reserves, and Quinn Sullivan, a rising star from the academy.
Curtin is unhappy with Uhre’s performances as of late, and he is becoming less likely to play a big part for the club. Additionally, a new striker, Israeli Tai Baribo, was recently signed, and if he hits the ground running, he could quickly become a starter. Things will likely get worse before they get better for Uhre.