WILMINGTON, Del. — The best word Philadelphia Union manager Jim Curtin uses to describe Ilsinho is unique.
On Friday, the club announced it re-signed the 34-year-old Brazilian playmaker for the 2020 Major League Soccer campaign. It will be his fifth season with the Eastern Conference side that he has produced 19 goals and 17 assists for.
“He’s probably the most unique player in MLS,” Curtin said after Friday’s training. “He’s coming off a season in 2019 where he won us a lot of games and a lot of points. In terms of a guy that changes the way a team defends you, he is probably the most impactful player our league has.”
Ilsinho could have opted to take his skill set elsewhere, but he kept describing the Philadelphia area as his home for he and his family, and that played a major role in his decision to come back.
“I’m so happy to be back. I feel at home. I feel like I had a couple days off at home and then back to work,” Ilsinho said Friday after training.
“My wife, if I’m leaving Philly or the United States, she’d kill me. She gets some percent of my decision. She said if I make the decision to move she’s going to be mad. Happy wife, happy life,” Ilsinho said.
The Union made an offer to Ilsinho after last season and it took some time for the midfielder to go over the proposal. Negotiations heated up recently and a deal was set in stone this week.
“That is the business, right? They fight for the owner. I fight for my family. But I’m glad we did it,” Ilsinho said. “They made an offer for me right after last season. Then we started to talk and a couple days ago we decided to sign the deal. It wasn’t a big deal, but we had to negotiate a little bit.”
“Ilsinho has really embraced Philadelphia. I know his family likes Philadelphia as well,” Curtin said. “There certainly were teams that were interested in him in England, in different parts of the world. Certainly in Brazil he could go back and play. I’m glad that things got sorted out and he decided to remain with us in Philadelphia. I know he’s going to always be working to be in the starting lineup. That’s how he thinks as a player, as a professional and it’s my job to put the best group on the field to get results and Ilsinho certainly is as valuable a weapon as a coach could have.”
Ilsinho made $330,000 on base salary in 2019, according to the MLS player salary database. On Monday, sporting director Ernst Tanner told reporters the club made a fair offer to the Brazilian.
“He just needs to put his signature on the contract,” Tanner said. “There’s no space for negotiations. He knows it and I think we’ll get him in.”
Specifics of the deal were not announced Friday.
During his spectacular 2019 season, Ilsinho, who made 28 appearances primarily off the bench, was slotted into an adjusted 4-2-3-1 formation on the right wing. He produced five goals and eight assists, but he did not contribute directly to a goal after August 31.
With the Union attempting to play more out of a 4-4-2 diamond formation as their base, Ilsinho’s positioning will have to change.
“It’s our job to find the best way to utilize him, but what a weapon to have,” Curtin said.
Curtin detailed a variety of ways in which he can use Ilsinho, including as a second No. 10, or as a right-sided player on the diamond midfield.
“I liked him at the No. 10 to be honest,” Curtin said. “We could play with two No. 10s at times this year too. He could be complimentary in that regard if we play with a second No. 10. Even if he plays on the outside of a diamond, he is going to tend to drift even wider so you can kind of skew things to suit his skill set.”
“It’s no secret last year we would go into a 4-2-3-1 at times as well,” Curtin said. “That flexibility will be there. He is a guy, if you play three at the back, he could play as the wing back on the right-hand side which would give teams fits as well.”
For the player, he is focused on earning his spot in the team and nothing else, which is what he told Curtin in one of their initial conversations.
“Since I came here, I told Jimmy I’m here to help,” Ilsinho said. “Help to defend, help to attack, it doesn’t matter which formation we play.”
“For sure, I prefer to play like a winger, but if it doesn’t fit this year, we have to find the best way to play,” Ilsinho said. “I just want to play. I’m here to fight for my position. I’m here to play more minutes. I’m glad to help.”
The 34-year-old knows the end of his career is coming fast, but for now, all of his focus is directed toward making an impact on the field once again for the Union.
“It’s definitely the best place for me and my family, but every season I just think about being healthy during the season,” Ilsinho said. “Then when I finish that season, I start to think what I have to do to be more healthy next season. I never thought about finishing playing. I just think about what I can do to be better and better.
“This day is coming sooner rather than not. I have to think about that, but right now it’s too early,” Ilsinho said.