CHESTER, Pa. — “The Ilsinho Game”
That’s what the Philadelphia Union’s 3-2 win over the New York Red Bulls will go down as in club history.
The Brazilian’s two goals and one assist in a 12-minute span propelled the Union to a 3-2 win on Saturday, and in the process, cemented the midfielder’s spot in club lore.
The 33-year-old’s incredible performance off the bench saved the day for the Union, who were poor in the final third and gave up two goals in the first half.
The victory made the Union the only team in the Eastern Conference over 30 points at the Concacaf Gold Cup break.
Jim Curtin’s side leads the East in points (31), points per game (1.82), wins (9), goals scored (31) and goal differential (+11)
Below is a look at a few of the major takeaways from the Union’s thrilling victory on Saturday night.
Ilsinho Delivers Magic Off the Bench
We could spend all of this piece fawning over the remarkable performance of Ilsinho.
The 33-year-old midfielder took the definition of super-sub to a brand-new level in the 12-minute spurt in which he set up Jamiro Monteiro’s opener, scored from a run into the penalty area and finished off a rebound from a Luis Robles penalty save on Monteiro.
“Tonight was special,” Ilsinho said. “Even in my best dreams, I can’t think about something that, especially against Red Bull in our derby. Down 2-0 to them and then I scored two goals and an assist and almost scored a third one. I’m so happy, but every time we have to take a risk and we were down 2-0. We just try. Things happen. I’m so proud of everybody.”
Ilsinho’s incredible outing drew praise from former teammates and those away on international duty.
Bruh Ilsinho is just a different class👏🏾
— Derrick Jones✨⚡️ (@21_djones) June 9, 2019
Ilsinho the most efficient man in MLS
— Warren Creavalle (@warrenspeak) June 9, 2019
Always has been. Always will be. 🙌🏿🙏🏿 https://t.co/UIZQKCLXXL
— CJ Sapong (@BigAfrika88) June 9, 2019
Although he’s played 42 minutes in the last two games, Ilsinho’s been the difference-maker for the Union. In addition to his play on Saturday, his cross set up Auston Trusty’s game-winning strike against Minnesota United on Sunday.
In 551 minutes this season, Ilsinho has four goals and five assists, and he’s been effective with his shooting with seven of his 13 shots going on net.
“Ilsinho comes in and changes the game,” Curtin said. “He’s a different level. There’s levels to things, and whether you’re in the business world, whether you’re a doctor, whether you’re a basketball player or a soccer player, there’s levels. And Ilsinho is at a level that very few can get to, ever, in their lives. He changed the game. It was a night where he would not be denied.”
At some point, you’d think opposing defenses would figure out the Union’s substitution strategy, which has become a bit one-dimensional with Marco Fabian dealing with injuries and the forwards not delivering in front of the net.
Ilsinho has attracted more defenders as the season progresses, but he has proven time and time again that his pure quality on the ball and technical skill is too much for defenders to handle.
— Philadelphia Union (@PhilaUnion) June 9, 2019
The hope for the Union is when Fabian comes back, and they possibly add an attacking piece in the summer, for Ilsinho to continue to be dangerous, but not the only option off the bench.
If Fabian is added back into the rotation, that makes Brenden Aaronson a bench option, a role that could suit the Homegrown midfielder better as MLS defenders continue to figure out his game.
The addition of another forward, or better form from the three top strikers could also benefit Ilsinho’s productivity since defenses would not be able to hone in on the Brazilian.
Blake’s Return From Jamaican Camp Reaps Rewards
The Union benefited from their strong relationship with the Jamaican Football Federation to bring Andre Blake back for Saturday’s game.
Since Jamaica only had one friendly scheduled before the Gold Cup, Wednesday’s win over the United States in Washington, D.C., the window was open for Blake to return for one more game.
Blake came up with a huge play at the start of the second half by denying Daniel Royer on a shot that could have handed the Red Bulls a three-goal advantage.
“Definitely a big save at that point,” Blake said. “Going down 3-0 would’ve been very tough for the guys. I’m just happy I was able to do my job. I was already pissed off we were losing 2-0, but as a professional, you have to forget about stuff and keep going. I’m just very happy I was able to make that save to keep us in the game.”
Blake wasn’t perfect on Saturday, but he was able to recover from a miscommunication with Jack Elliott on the second Red Bulls goal to make a difference-making save that kept his side in the game.
The Union tried to keep their quest to bring Blake back from Jamaica camp a secret during the week so that the Red Bulls couldn’t benefit from the same situation with Kemar Lawrence.
“(Lawrence)’s such a great player,” Blake said. “We had to do everything. We had to make sure he did not come back for this game.”
Improvements Must Be Made In Attack
Ilsinho’s performance covered up the lackluster showing the Union produced in the opening 60 minutes.
Aaronson was ineffective in his No. 10 role, a trend that is starting to get concerning with Fabian still working back to full fitness.
The combination of defensive midfielders roughing up Aaronson and making him uncomfortable and the lack of adjustments made by the Union to give him more space to work into has led to a slump for the first-year player.
Aaronson’s inability to make an impact in the final third is also affected by the poor form of Kacper Przybylko and Sergio Santos around the net.
On Saturday, Przybylko and Santos combined to put one of their four shots on target. In the last five games, Przybylko and Santos have scored one goal each and placed five of their combined 24 shots on goal.
While Przybylko is at least active in the shot department, Santos’ numbers have dried up recently. The Brazilian forward recorded six shots, one of which has gone on target, in the last five matches.
Starting with the U.S. Open Cup fourth-round game on Wednesday versus D.C. United, Curtin needs to use a new forward combination that includes Fafa Picault in order to try and find a scoring rhythm.
If the Union can’t fix their struggles at the forward position, the reliance on Ilsinho will grow, which will hurt the team since moments of magic, like what we saw on Saturday, won’t happen in every single match.