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A Philadelphia Union blog hosted by Christopher A. Vito and Matthew De George

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

More than just tricks, Ilsinho earns Player of the Week honors

Union winger Ilsinho, playing against Chicago last month,
has raised his level in recent weeks, earning MLS Player of the Week honors.
(Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)
For weeks, Jim Curtin has struck the “just wait” refrain about Ilsinho. Just wait until he’s healthy and fit and acclimated and over all those minor obstacles of adjusting to MLS, particularly after being without a club for the better part of a year.

In Saturday night’s 3-0 win over D.C. United, MLS saw the potential Ilsinho has, for which he was Tuesday crowned MLS Player of the Week by the North American Soccer Reporters (NASR) for Week 18 of the season.

“Very happy,” Ilsinho said after training Tuesday, via translator Leo Fernandes. “But the most important thing is that the team won and that we're playing well. It was good to get three points.”

Ilsinho is the third Union player tabbed as player of the week in the last six weeks, joining Roland Alberg in Week 16 and Chris Pontius in Week 14.

Ilsinho scored twice Saturday, once off a penalty kick that he drew. His 47th minute goal from the run of play was a Goal of the Week nominee, a rocket after CJ Sapong knocked down an Alberg free kick.

Getting his first goal with a team is a poignant moment of arrival, as Ilsinho appreciates.

“When you come into a new team, to score that first goal, that's really one of your main goals,” he said. “It took more than 15 games. But it's good for the rest of the season and my confidence just keeps growing.”

It’s also fulfills the promise that Curtin has long touted. Ilsinho, who was last with Ukrainian club Shaktar Donetsk until the end of the 2014-15 season, played his way onto the team from a preseason trial but required time to come to grips with MLS’s physicality and fitness demands. He started the first four games of the season, going the full 90 in the loss to Chicago, but then suffered a hamstring injury and a quad knock that cost him five games.

He went from April 2 to the June 15 Open Cup match without making a start, limiting his brilliant trickery on the ball to flashes in substitute appearances.

Despite the stop-start open to his Union career, Ilsinho has earned an impressive distinction. He’s played 14 games for the Union this season, which overtakes former Red Bull midfielder Juninho Pernambucano and Columbus defender Glauber as the second-most MLS games played by a capped Brazilian national. First on the list is Kaka, the Orlando City all-star, who’s played 37 and counting.

Ilsinho is impacting games more profoundly. He supplied assists on both of Pontius’ goals in the win over the Red Bulls in the Open Cup two weeks ago and now has opened his goals account. The steady stream of gif-able moves continues to flow, but they have more purpose and tangible products.

“It's good to do tricks and flicks and things like that, but the most important thing is for me to get goals and assists and help the team win,” he said.

Scoring should encourage Ilsinho to do what Curtin has long exhorted him to: Shoot more. Ilsinho’s greatest strength lies in his chance creation for others. He’s a wide player who began his career as a fullback. He’s not a noted scorer, yielding only 17 goals in 109 games in the Ukrainian Premier League.

But against MLS defenses, his knack for creating space for himself and others will be aided by posing a realistic threat at goal. And if Saturday’s finish was any indication, he can put away the looks he generates.

“It definitely gives me more confidence to shoot the ball more,” Ilsinho said. “As soon as you get the first goal, you want to get the second, and the third. It keeps rolling.”

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