Room to improve for undefeated Philadelphia Union: “Still lacking that bit of magic in the final third”

The Philadelphia Union are the lone remaining unbeaten team in Major League Soccer despite only three goals this season from the forward position.

Fortunately for manager Jim Curtin, there’s reason to be hopeful for more front-line production as soon as Saturday’s visit to face Toronto FC (7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in the US and DAZN in Canada).

For starters, January Designated Player signing Mikael Uhre is finally getting up to speed after a protracted MLS onboarding that included visa delays and a minor quadriceps injury.

The former Danish Superliga golden boot winner made his first MLS start in last Saturday’s 1-0 win over the Columbus Crew. And while the 27-year-old is still in search of his first Philadelphia goal, there was promise in his 76-minute shift.

“He got stronger as the game went on, which is a very good sign,” Curtin said. “He’s still getting used to his teammates. … He’s getting used to the uniqueness, I’ll just say, of MLS. And overall I thought the first start was really good. He’s a guy that’s going to only gain sharpness and fitness as he gets more used to his teammates.”

Then there’s Sergio Santos’ track record against Toronto, which includes six of his 18 career MLS goals scored over just six appearances (three starts) and 281 total minutes facing the Reds.

Santos has two assists and is also looking for his first goal of the season. He trained all week after departing last weekend’s victory on 65 minutes with a hamstring injury, Curtin said.

“He does score goals against Toronto. And sometimes there’s something to those things,” Curtin said. “Sometimes it’s matchups, sometimes there’s not a whole lot to it.”

Goals from either player could potentially represent a final piece of the puzzle for another potential run at the 2022 Supporters’ Shield and maybe 2022 MLS Cup.

Midfielder Daniel Gazdag currently leads Philly with four goals. Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya and forward Cory Burke have two each.

The gang at Extratime discussed the topic and exactly where they rate Philadelphia in the MLS Cup contender hierarchy. For Armchair Analyst Matt Doyle, the difference between “one of the contenders” and “the Eastern Conference favorite” hinges on whether a clear primary scoring threat emerges from the quartet of Uhre, Burke, Santos or Julian Carranza.

“They need one of those guys to be the best No. 9 on team and one of the best in the league, and get 15 goals and five assists, and constantly be a thorn in the side of opposing defenses, not just for work rate and link-up play, but also for like putting the ball in the net,” Doyle said.

Doyle also didn’t rule out the idea that Gazdag could continue a trajectory where he becomes that finisher instead of a provider and playmaker first.

And he refuted the idea the Union weren’t creating enough opportunities. Their 9.9 expected goals back that up, a total that exceeds the nine goals scored by Union players. (Own goals — like Eloy Room’s in last week’s win over Columbus — are not counted in xG totals.)

“I think they’re pretty good at creating chances, even though it’s not elite,” Doyle said. “But they are lacking that bit of magic in the final third. And if Gazdag turns out to be the guy, or if Uhre or Carranza turn out to be the guy, then they can answer that question in the affirmative. And then we’re talking about a team that becomes prohibitive favorites.”