Nothing tears the heart out of a young player quite like getting ripped to shreds by a 32 year old man. Just ask Ronald Matarrita.
And nothing shines a spotlight on the 'aging' portion of 'aging superstar' as much as getting put in the spin cycle inside his own box.
Ilsinho is a sorcerer. There is no way around this. Put a ball near his feet and it will imprint on him like a baby duckling looking for its mother, obeying his commands — no matter how absurd they seem — with unnerving consistency.
The Brazilian's 2018 season must be seen through the lens of both his 2017 performances and his struggles with injury. After starting 24 games and playing over 1800 minutes in 2017 (often out of position as a creative midfielder), Ilsinho returned to the wing this season and promptly put up the same number of goals as last season (six) in half the time (985 minutes). And as the clips above suggest... some of those goals were of the spectacular variety.
It wasn't simply the move to the wing that made Ilsinho so valuable. The man with the magic feet also fought through muscle pulls and was only able to start nine times in 2018. While this was disappointing on the surface -- who wants to see greatness restrained? -- it also provided Jim Curtin with the ability to find a dependable and dangerous front three that could wear teams down. Ilsinho returned from his second injury with a clearly defined role. When legs were tired, he appeared like Gandalf at the top of the mountain, wading into battle and slaughtering all defenders that dared oppose him. This is a good weapon to have, and Jim Curtin used Ilsinho effectively during the latter half of the season. It wasn't always goals that came from these late-game cameos, though. Instead, it was control of the game.
As a team that sought to dominate the ball, Philly utilized Ilsinho to slow down the pace of the match. When the Union were ahead, the winger made pushing forward more difficult for the opposition. In the most salient instance of this tactic, Ilsinho entered for 22 minutes remaining in the Union's home match against New York City and proceeded to collapse the left side of NYC's shape. Along with a dazzling goal, the winger also drew out the anger of Matarrita, who made an early exit after picking up an immature red card. When the Union were behind, they could replace either the physicality of CJ Sapong or the speed of Fafa Picault with Ilsinho's ability to combine up the wing.
“He's so skillful, so talented,” Jim Curtin said after the season. “In individual, 1v1 battles he is unguardable. He cannot be stopped one on one. You’re talking about a guy that was probably worth about nine points to us this year on his own.”
Going forward, Ilsinho will continue to be a sparkplug off the Union bench. The big questions surrounding Philly’s favorite Brazilian is not about the role he will play — age will require it a reduced workload — but how the Union can find some of that magic in the rest of their roster. Fafa Picault, as he showed in both Orlando and Seattle — has the ability to be a gamebreaker, but the Union will need more.