In his TV interview after a deadlocked first half Wednesday, Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin indicated that he'd go to veteran midfielder Ilsinho early in the second half. It seemed a good, smart, energy substitution to break down a Cincinnati defense sitting back and standing tough against the Union's attack. And it paid off, as Ilsinho opened the scoring just six minutes into his second-half shift, en route to the Union's 3-0 win.
As Curtin relayed it, though, the reason for putting Ilsinho on was simple.
"I put Ilsinho in because he's the best player I've ever worked with in terms of attacking talent," he said. "You're trying to break down a team sitting deep, a team that was pretty organized, a team that doesn't concede a lot of chances in the run of play. There are certain guys that you know in the attacking third of the field, you don't really coach him. You just say, guys, get him the ball to his feet in a wide position and he can break down and change the defense.
"We're so lucky to have him," Curtin added. "I think our league as a whole is so lucky to have a guy like Ilsinho, to watch what he does, day in and day out on the field, in games, is something that I think all the fans should love and respect. In the things that I get to see every day in training, some of what I almost want to call the funniest things that you could possibly see in soccer. He's special, he's a unique talent, he's one in a million, quite literally, and he played a great role for us tonight."
Watch: Ilsinho opens the scoring for Philadelphia Union
The win was made all the sweeter for the Union given it came after an unexpected late change to the starting lineup. Key midfielder Jose Martinez left Wednesday morning to join the Venezuelan national team and, while Curtin stressed that he was happy for the player, it created an unprecedented situation for the team.
"You know, when your morning starts with a text message from the head coach on a group text that we're changing formations and changing personnel, that's certainly something that's never happened before," he said. "No matter what adversity seems to hit this team, the next man steps up. If I asked them to play different positions, if I asked them to change formations, the mindset and the mentality is, 'We'll do anything to get three points."'
The win takes Philadelphia up to second place in the Eastern Conference and the Supporters' Shield standings, three points behind Toronto FC.
"We did our job," Curtin continued. "It's not a game everybody's gonna remember, but a game that is a big three points, and a time in the year where everybody's desperate for points. We know that when other teams come in, they're going to want to try to take points from us, and then we want to try to fend them off and keep them behind us in the table."