The phrase "club record" has been thrown around at a dizzying frequency over the Philadelphia Union's last few years.
Their on-field rise has included steady, linear growth under head coach Jim Curtin and sporting director Ernst Tanner. Three straight seasons established a new club record for points (or points per game), culminating with the 2020 Supporters' Shield. Their playoff runs have trended upwards at a similar trajectory. First playoff win in 2019, first trip to the Conference Final in 2021 (plus a run to the Concacaf Champions League semifinals).
Along the way – perhaps what Philadelphia are more widely known for – is their work in player development and then the transfer market, with Brenden Aaronson's historic move to RB Salzburg followed closely by Mark McKenzie joining KRC Genk the same winter. The US men's national team youngsters are the first two in a burgeoning pipeline for talent.
One thing Philadelphia are not known for is spending big or turning heads with signings. That's why their latest new club-record acquisition of Danish international striker Mikael Uhre from Brønbdy IF caught national attention.
“As you know," Tanner chose as his first words on a virtual press conference Thursday, "this is not something we do every day.”
The fee clocks in at $2.8 million, a modest amount for a leading center forward. It is a fraction of what Aaronson (likely $9 million after incentives, plus more coming soon with a healthy sell-on clause) and McKenzie ($6 million) were moved for. It would not be a club record for many other teams across MLS, but it still represents another progression for a club continuing to reach new heights.
“First and foremost, it’s about the quality of the player," Tanner said of the club-record fee. "We are continuously spending, that is not a problem. We are spending very well and very efficient, this is a pathway we will never get away from. This is the culture we’ve established and it’s proven successful. The question is about what we’re going to achieve in the future, the goals get higher and higher.”
Uhre, 27, is coming off a career year and his first cap for Denmark. The center forward won the Danish Superliga Golden Boot last season and was named the league's Player of the Year. Even at a club-record fee, most view it as an incredibly fair price, if not an outright bargain, for a club that's specialized in identifying undervalued talent.
“The pressure is not on him," Curtin said. "We recruited him and wanted him for a reason. It’s our job, the coaching staff and players, to make it easy for him. He just needs to be himself and over time, things will take care of themselves.”
Philly's new strikeforce
Uhre has familiarity and experience playing a system similar to Philly's pressing and transition-based style. No two clubs are the same, but the principles are not new to him.
“As soon as I got the information about Philadelphia, I called my friend Hany Mukhtar," Uhre said. "I think you know him. He said the league would be a very good fit for me as a football player, that really helped me. I thought this would be a great challenge.”
Uhre arrives after Przybylko was traded to Chicago Fire FC for $1.15 million in General Allocation Money and joins a new-look front-line for Philly, as Julian Carranza was also added as a Young DP this offseason. Carranza is on loan from Inter Miami CF with a purchase option.
The new forward duo, as well as a full season of Hungary international midfielder Daniel Gazdag, offers plenty of firepower at Curtin's disposal.
“It’s a very exciting day for the Philadelphia Union, to get a player of Mikael’s quality," Curtin said. "Being the top scorer of a European league for a club who played in the Europa League, we’re very happy he chose us. He’ll fit the club, he’ll fit the team and certainly fit the city of Philadelphia. … We’re happy he chose Philadelphia while he was being chased by clubs all over Europe and beyond. It speaks to our growth that a player of his quality chose us."
“I was looking at how I could be better, how I could take the next step in my career and I really feel quite comfortable that this is the right choice," Uhre added.
Currently, Philadelphia have all three DP spots filled between Uhre, Carranza and Cape Verde international midfielder Jamiro Monteiro. If things remain the same – Monteiro looked at a transfer back to Europe last summer but no deal formalized – it would mark the first time that the Union, since joining MLS in 2010 as an expansion club, have all three DP spots filled.
It's an exciting period for the Union, one that could push them to even greater levels.
“I think we have our deepest team, that’s special," Curtin said. "But as you know, games aren’t won on paper. We have a lot of work to do.”