Mikael Uhre relies on his experience to adapt to life in MLS

Mikael Uhre finds his goalscoring form. That sentence alone should scare any future Union opponent in the Eastern Conference. The former Danish Superliga Player of the Year has scored five goals in five games and proved to the Philadelphia Union fanbase that he is indeed the missing attacker, a top-class DP forward with the work to win the ball defensively and the pace Beating opponents by counters and the ability and attitude to find the back of the net.

Uhre’s two goals against the Houston Dynamo in last Saturday’s 6-0 win, his seventh and eighth of the season, earned him second place on the team and tied seventh in the league. With just 867 minutes of game time, he sits third in the MLS with a 0.83 goals per 90 minutes behind LA Galaxy’s Dejan Joveljic (1.24) and DC United’s Taxi Fountas (0.89). the league by a healthy margin. His shot conversion rate of 33% (shots on goals) is second only to Joveljic (39.1%), meaning he is one of the most efficient forwards in MLS. Not bad for a man who played his sixteenth game of the MLS season last week, in addition to two games in Champions League qualifiers, five games in the Europa League and sixteen games in the Danish Superliga where he scored 11 goals was the top scorer before joining the Union in January.

At the beginning of the season, when wins and goals were difficult, it might have been easy to put the magnifying glass on the clock. After a challenging MLS acclimatization delayed by visa issues, lifestyle changes and injuries, Uhre came out of the international break in June and scored seven goals in ten games, including a brace in Union’s record-breaking 7-0 win over DC before he scored another brace in the recent win over Houston. Thanks to a positive attitude and a relentless work ethic, it’s safe to say the transition period is behind him, and if anyone had concerns about his early accomplishments, Uhre was not among them.

“It’s actually quite easy to stay positive when you know you’re going to get the odds,” Uhre told Brotherly Game after practice this week. “I think the toughest games for me were the ones where I didn’t create anything.” In Uhre’s early appearances, he created chances with switches and breakaways, but many were stopped by deflections, acrobatic saves, goalposts and his own slight misses . “You know if you keep changing it, eventually it will work and you will start scoring goals. That was my mentality, just trying to create chances because then I know I’m going to score.”

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the watch is how quickly it adapts, although even it admits at first that wasn’t the case. “It was pretty tough,” he said. “Of course you start from a safe place where you know everything and how everything works and then you go here where everything is brand new to you. And then it was so hard to become a father in the process, without grandparents and my mum and dad. So that was tough.”

Uhre and his wife Amalie welcomed a daughter in December, stepping up the role of newlywed parents on the voyage across the Atlantic. “We got off the other side and it’s really great. Now we’re enjoying life a bit more and we’re also a bit over the rough patch with the baby so it’s getting better every day.”

Uhre found that the off-field adjustment period hampered his on-field performance, where he was determined to make an immediate impact. “It’s definitely easier to play a game when you’re balanced off the pitch,” he said. “You can’t always be balanced. And sometimes you have to step on the ice and see if it breaks or not. It didn’t break.”

In a media session after practice this week, Union manager Jim Curtin took some responsibility for the incomplete indoctrination of his record league signing. “Mikael came to a new club, a new culture, you know, with different kinds of self-imposed pressures that any good striker puts on themselves to score goals,” he said. “Part of it was that we were training him too hard too fast and it caused an injury and that had a big setback just for his preparation and training. And obviously you’ve seen that in our league he can do damage if he gets healthy.

Coping with change and adversity is nothing new for uhre. He made his professional debut in 2013 at the age of 18 with SönderjyskE. Two seasons later he was loaned out to First Division Skive IK where his career was put to the ultimate test. “I went from being a full-time professional in the Superliga to the Premier League and had to get up in the morning and work before I went to practice in the evening and was home by 10 a.m.” Uhre worked an office job from 8 a.m. to noon and started to work wondering if he would fulfill his dream of playing at the highest level. “It’s about just moving on and then just trying to believe in yourself. It can be hard sometimes, it can be dark sometimes when it’s not really going your way.”

A year later, Uhre scored 15 goals for Skive in all competitions and earned the club promotion to the Superliga. Two years later, Uhre moved to Brøndby, scoring 48 goals in 122 games and culminating in the 2020-21 title season, where he won the Golden Ball and Player of the Season. He still thinks positively about his time in the office. “I found out how much I really love football and again, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Despite being Union’s most expensive signing ($2.8 million), Uhre isn’t content with just scoring goals. Both he and Curtin spoke about a meeting last week where Uhre asked his coach how he could improve. “I give him a lot of credit for coming into the office and just asking after the Orlando game how he could get more involved?” said Curtin. “In that game, I think he only touched the ball ten times, which is not enough for a striker of his quality.”

Uhre failed to register a shot or create chances against Orlando. “Part of that is because of the other players to get him the ball,” Curtin said, “part of that is because of his movement and because he’s doing better than just working as hard defensively and then just chasing and doing it when you do it We’re exhausted, now finding other ways to break away from the centre-backs, maybe connect a couple of passes in midfield, drop a bit lower and then set up the next move, which is next time to go behind the centre-back.

Uhre responded by doubling down on his touches and attacking different spaces, resulting in two goals, the first on a late run into the box that buried an Olivier Mbaizo cross into the top corner. His second came on an excellent run behind Houston centre-backs, allowing Alejandro Bedoya’s pass before hitting the ball with the outside of his right foot. “I’m always trying to find ways to develop my game,” said Uhre. “Because I know that if I run against the back line and go deep, I’m lethal. I think I’m always trying to build on that and always strive to be a better footballer.”

Curtin was pleased with the progress of the meeting. “You saw him score goals against Houston that really indicated a confident forward. He combined in midfield, he still worked hard in defence, but then he set up the central defenders and at the end of the game, and especially at the beginning of the second half, he runs back with breakaways, which suits his skills a lot. But Curtin is also quick to downplay any issues with Uhre’s performances. “It wasn’t a crisis or anything because he also scored goals in the other games. But to realize how can I even take it to another level? I think this little meeting brought a lot to both of us, me and Mikael. Getting him the ball a little more hopefully now will spur us on for the rest of the season.”

Danish football was in the global limelight during last season’s European Championships for its bravery and compassion as players and fans coped with Christian Eriksen’s devastating collapse in the opening game against Finland, but the country has a long history of great players, including Michael Laudrup and his brother Brian, who led Denmark to their only European Championship in 1992, two years before the birth of Uhre, in one of the continent’s greatest Cinderella stories. So Uhre had no shortage of players to model his game after. “The European Championships were before my time and I think watching international football was a bit easier growing up, so I’ve always been smitten with Cristiano Ronaldo. But at home Michael Laudrup, of course, but I also think that Peter Schmeichel was an idol of mine.

Now that he’s settled into the country and the Philadelphia area, Uhre shared his favorite part of life in the US. “I’d like to say the weather,” he said, laughing, “but it’s starting to get a little too hot. I would like to go down to 20-25 degrees Celsius like at home. But yes, we enjoy many things… the time I have with my wife and daughter. That’s the key.”

As we look towards the last 11 games of the season and with the weather getting cooler heading into the fall, we can be sure Clocks will stay hot. He’s healthy, his spirits are high and he got through the toughest part of the season that just happened. Now he’s focused on leading Union’s attack towards the MLS Cup playoffs and beyond.

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