Commentary / Roster News / Union

Re-signing Ilsinho is a big deal

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

Jamiro Monteiro was the big one. For just about everyone that followed the Philadelphia Union in 2019, the No. 1 offseason priority was to, at all costs, bring back Monteiro. It has rightfully made the most noise over the past few weeks, because it surprised many that he opted to come back. He very quickly became one of the best midfielders in Major League Soccer last season, and signing him to a long-term deal painted a really strong picture of Ernst Tanner’s future for the club.

You know what else did? Ilsinho.

It didn’t send sound waves through MLS last week. Analysts weren’t tweeting about it and it was hardly Chicharito Hernandez joining LA Galaxy, but Ilsinho coming back matters a lot for the Union. It matters because he’s coming back with Monteiro. It’s a big deal because of statistics, sure, but mostly it’s a big deal because it’s essentially Tanner saying that last year wasn’t good enough. We’re going to bring back our core players, sign some new ones, and go right back for Atlanta. Ilsinho will play a major role in another playoff run in 2020.

The easy place to start is what he did on the pitch. 2019 was in many ways a career season for the Brazilian, and he played in a 82 percent of the Union’s matches. Most of those appearances came off the bench, where he posted eight assists, good for third on the team. That’s impressive enough — for a sub to be third on the squad in dimes — but his five goals truly cemented him as the league’s most dangerous sub. Most teams don’t have that kind of production from a midfielder in their starting 11, let alone off the bench.

So, in that sense, it was a no-brainer to try and bring him back. He scores goals and assists and that’s what soccer comes down to. The thing about Ilsinho, though, is he provides so much more than numbers for the box score. We’re talking about a master dribbler here. A lad that dreams of taking defenders on. In the gloomiest of Talen Energy Stadium atmospheres, he can fly off the bench and instantly earn a corner. He can wake everyone up with a spicy nutmeg.

Jim Curtin knows this better than anyone. He knows that he has a literal weapon at his disposal and sometimes he may not even use it to change the scoreboard. Sometimes he may throw a spark out on the field to change the match’s flavor. In a world of subs that step on and merely blend into the action, Ilsinho is the brightest of sparks.

How do you put a price on that?

A lot of sporting directors would probably start at the number 34. Ilsinho is 34 years old, which sounds almost ancient in the world of professional soccer. But similar to his statistics, that number is more than meets the eye. For most 34-year-old Brazilians, a retirement trip back home would be an ideal way to end a career — a less competitive league and presumably more playing time next to family and friends.

In Ilsinho’s case, are we even sure he wants more playing time? He feasts on tired legs and 2019 is hard evidence that, at least at this point in his career, he’s more effective off the bench anyway. In almost half the amount of minutes, he was more productive last season than he was in 2017, where he started 24 matches. It’s really the perfect storm and it’s part of why Tanner wanted him back. He now has a defined role that is instrumental to the squad: come off the bench in the second half with a green light.

“His footwork and ability to press and possess on the attack are unmatched and proved to be crucial to our successful 2019 season, as they have over the last four seasons with the club. We look forward to what his continued leadership and skill will bring to our midfield this season,” Tanner said.

The price on Ilsinho shouldn’t even be a concern, because to Union supporters, he’s “Skillsinho.” For all the soccer reasons that make perfect sense, the pure excitement and unpredictability that he brings is reason enough to give it a go again in 2020. It’s one thing to have a reliable skill option on the bench, but it’s another to look into a national television camera at halftime of the Eastern Conference Semifinals and say “We’ll see Ilsinho soon.”

Just as opposing coaches loathe the idea of him coming on, Union fans will have Ilsinho to look forward to in just about every match again next year. Both of those things matter for various reasons, but if Tanner deserves credit for retaining Monteiro, he also deserves credit for retaining the best sub in the league.

The future is much brighter with him.


  1. Atomic Spartan says:

    Every team needs an “Oh Shit” player when the game is on the line in the second half. Skillsinho makes defenders and opposing fans say “Oh Shit” whenever he’s subbed in.

      • Book of the Cup that is Open 5:53 – 5:58,

        “And the Evil Sigi did open the seventh seal and revealed unto the Unionites he who is Obafemi. The Unionites replied in unison, ‘Oh shit.’

        A young and inexperienced son of a curtain maker, named James, did send onto the field of battle a diminutive warrior, Daniel of the Spanish Cross. To which the Unionites replied in unison, ‘Oh Shit.’

  2. I am certainly glad that they re-signed him. Matt Doyle has, I believe, made the claim that Ilsinho is the best substitute player in MLS history.

    However, I suspect he may be a lot less impactful this year. I admit this is just a hunch on my part. But if he comes out every match, teams will plan for it, and he is aging, and… this game is funny. It’s hard to be sure someone will maintain their productivity. Even a demi-god like Sebastian Giovinco can have a so-so season.

    I guess what I’m saying is that I hope there will be other bench spark options too. Eggs in one basket and all.

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