Commentary / Union

Mikael Uhre and Julian Carranza are still finding their footing

Photo: Stephen Speer

When the Philadelphia Union signed Mikael Uhre on January 27, it not only broke the club record for a transfer in, but marked the first time that the Union would have two designated players at the forward position.

It was a signing that captured the imagination of many, and appeased the numerous supporters clambering for a “real” designated player after the Union brought in Inter Miami loanee Julian Carranza on a youth DP contract earlier in the offseason. 

With an established goal scorer coming in from Europe, and an encouraging youth talent brought into a club renowned for its developmental skill, it seemed settled that the concerns over losing Kacper Przybyłko were all but over. The club had two exciting new additions up top, and the start of the season was sure to bring an attacking prowess the likes of which Union faithful had yet to see, and the results to match. 

Six games into the season and that prolific attack that so many fantasized about still remains just a fantasy.

But with the Union sitting first in the Supporters Shield Standings, does that really matter?

In short? No. 

Bedding in

First things first is the obvious fact that Uhre and Carranza have both just joined the club. Any striker is going to take time to fall into whatever system they’ve just joined. Carranza is young, and is still learning the game in addition to the Union’s tactics. Uhre missed all of preseason, picked up an injury, and is only just now getting proper reps in with the first team. Both have more than enough time to grow into their roles, and become the strikers the Union want them to become.

Injuries and adaptation periods aside though, the Union have never been an attacking first team, and there’s no reason for them to force the issue now.

Over the last three years, the Union have been one of the best teams in Major League Soccer. In that three-year time period they’ve earned more regular season points than any other club, reached an Eastern Conference final, a Champions League semi-final, and brought home their first trophy in club history. It’s an impressive run that’s been accomplished by physical, team-first football that adheres to strict tactics, and relies on players buying into a somewhat non-conventional system. Sure, Przybylko’s contributions played a key role in the Union’s success, but he wasn’t a game changing striker that dominated the attacking third. 

What’s more, any transition that sees the Union move from their current style of play to a more attack oriented style is going to take time, and Involve a commitment from other players to make the system work. You can’t expect a team that features José Martínez in the midfield to change overnight into a possession based team that outskills opponents while gracefully moving through the attacking third. 

More goal-oriented?

Using Uhre and Carranza together is not a total overhaul of the formation or tactics, but shifting to play through a duo that’s more goal oriented can cause a bit of a shakeup.

Just look at the difference between the game against Charlotte, and last week’s performance against Columbus, the first where Uhre and Carranza started together. Against the Crew the squad looked intent on playing through the two men up top, and as a result the attack often stagnated just inside the 18. Even so, the Union found a way to snag all three points and take sole possession of first place in the league. 

Of course, some may point to the Union’s first six opponents and highlight the fact that the Union will need to do much more offensively to get results off of more quality opposition, and to some degree, that is a valid point. The Union have hardly been stellar in front of goal this season, with only four goal scorers spread across their first ten goals of the season. But, to echo Jim O’Leary’s clever analogy, the season isn’t easy, it’s just a soft opening. Every top squad in the league is going to play their fair share of weaker opponents. It’s a reality in every sport, and Major League Soccer is no different. 

As things stand, the Union have played the games on schedule, and handled their business. Their two new attackers are getting minutes, and slowly but surely, the squad should begin to adjust to the presences of two prolific goal scorers.

And hey, even if they don’t, at least there’s still El Brujo. 


  1. Union opposition minus games against the Union

    above .500 1 (CLB)
    at .500 3 (Char, Minn, Montreal)
    below .500 2 (SJ, NYFC*)

    NYFC is a asterisk, because even if they currently stink, they are also the defending champions. SJ is bad, the rest are solidly average. As this is the MLS, the difference between the average and the good is not really very much. They have beaten the teams they have played, and those teams really aren’t that bad

  2. I liked Przybylko, but he didn’t fit this system. I think Caranza and Uhre are much better fits. And I think Uhre is going to click soon and score quite a few goals if he remains fit. He makes the runs this system needs and has the quality to finish. He was so close at least twice against Columbus. It’s close for me, but I think Caranza deserves the other starting job. He might not have Santos’ pace and energy, but he’s got loads of quality. I think the best use of Santos going forward is as a 60th- or 70th-minute sub. A fresh Santos after the backline has been running for an hour is a terror.

    • I think you’re right, Carranza and Uhre will be the starting pair with Santos the second half sub. Burke will be the replacment for Carranza depending on health and performance.
      Santos is so fast and will terrorize defenses but I think Uhre is even faster. Once he gets his touch in control he is going to put many more shots on target. Hopefully those shots will find the back of the net.

  3. As evidenced by the difficult finish on the one goal Carranza has scored here I think he is the clear starter up top. All of our forwards seem capable and willing to do the dirty running needed for the high press but until Uhre or Carranza start missing sitters I think they start. If Santos gets better or there are repeated good chances left unfinished by Uhre/Carranza then there will be more choices to be made but they both get a little longer leash being new to the team/league in my opinion.

  4. I think this article is confusing possession with attacking. Teams that attempt to control possession aren’t necessarily offensive, and you can be a direct attacking team without controlling much possession. The Union have been an attacking team for a few years now, but their attack is based on being direct, making quick counter attacks, and pressing for turnovers in the opposition half. Uhre and Carranza are very good fits for the Union. Carranza does a great job at the defensive work of a forward, while showing solid offensive potential alongside some production. Uhre looks to be very good on the counter attack because of his ability to run into space, which is very good for a team with good passing centerbacks.

    Some transition for both strikers is necessary, but I expect it’ll be a shorter time period because Ernst Tanner chose our new forwards well.

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