Ilsinho made the greatest substitute appearance in Philadephia Union history, amassing an assist and two goals in 12 minutes to pull his side back from a two-goal second half deficit. The win gives the Union 31 points and puts them four points above the fray in the Eastern Conference.
The Union and Red Bulls always play tight, heated matches but Saturday’s showdown featured two teams that have upped the pressing intensity in the league all season. There was little possession early as both sides sought to win their duels and transition the other way.
Sergio Santos was a threat early for Philadelphia and Kacper Przybylko nearly picked out the Brazilian in the fourth minute.
Next it was Jamiro Monteiro lacing a long shot that skimmed wide of the near post off a Haris Medunjanin quick restart.
Red Bull grew into the match and in the eighth minute Kaku got on the end of a quick transition but placed his shot wide of the post from the center of the box.
Santos broke through alone in the 19th minute, but his shot floated just over the goalmouth.
In the 28th minute, New York broke the deadlock through Kaku. The playmaker ran through as he followed up a long pass from Marc Rzatkowski that Kyle Duncan knocked down. A calm finish past Blake put the Union at a disadvantage and they struggled to find shots for the remainder of the half.
In the 42nd minute, Brian White nabbed New York’s second of the contest when confusion reigned in back. Auston Trusty, Jack Elliott, and Andre Blake let White get between them and the striker looped a shot over Blake as he fell.
Down 2-0 as the second half began, the Union drew power from the sold-out Talen Energy Stadium crowd. New York wasn’t about to let their lead slip though, and the two sides traded blows without generating much in the way of final product.
Then Jim Curtin called on Ilsinho.
The Brazilian tore through the Red Bulls from his first moment on the pitch. Darting to the endline in the 60th minute, he cut the ball back for Jamiro Monteiro and the midfielder — who slid into the center when Ilsinho replaced Brenden Aaronson — coolly slotted the bouncing ball into the far netting.
New York had been broken, and Ilsinho was not about to let up. Less than a minute later he put two defenders to sleep, leaped through them, and poked the ball through a third defender’s legs and past a stranded Luis Robles.
As the Brazilian danced in front of the River End, the stadium shook with excitement.
Was Ilsinho done? No. No, he was not.
After Ale Bedoya earned the Union a penalty with a cutback cross from the endline, Monteiro stepped up and drove his shot to Robles’ left. The goalie sprung across to save but Ilsinho beat everyone to the rebound and first timed it in with his left foot. In an immaculate 12 minute stretch, the Union went from two goals down to a 3-2 lead.
The lead was well-earned but not yet entirely safe. Brian White sprung through the defense in the 65th minute but pressure from Jack Elliott and good angles from Andre Blake forced the striker to pop his shot over the ball.
Minutes later, Blake charged out of his goal and tackled the ball away above his box in one of the more daring goalkeeping displays of the season.
As time wound down, Philly won a corner and, when it was deflected into the air, Ilsinho decided to try his luck one more time. He ripped a volley at Robles’ goal but the goal flew through the air to knock it over the frame.
The match ended 3-2 and the Union remain in first place, four points ahead of Montreal and with the second-most points in the league.
They are back in action on June 12 at DC United in the US Open Cup, and MLS play resumes on June 26 with a game at New England Revolution.