CHESTER, Pa. – When Ilsinho drew the Philadelphia Union's second penalty kick of the day in the 37th minute of their win over D.C. United on Saturday, the Brazilian midfielder made sure he got the opportunity to finish off the score.
Coach Jim Curtin leaves penalty-kick decisions entirely up to his players. So even though Roland Alberg had already put the Union up a goal from the spot 20 minutes into the game, Ilsinho got his chance, and he took it eagerly.
After going without a goal in his first 13 MLS games, including a missed PK in March, Ilsinho got the monkey off his back, burying the spot kick to give his team a 2-0 lead that paved the way for a comfortable victory over their I-95 rivals.
Less than three minutes into the second half, Ilsinho rocketed a firm shot past United goalkeeper Bill Hamid and into the back of the net, giving him two goals in 10 minutes after going 689 minutes without one.
“I prefer the second goal that he scored,” Curtin said. “The PK is great, but to score in the run of play... [and] to get rewarded with a great strike, you could see that it meant a lot to him. He’s confident now.”
The win over D.C. moves Philadelphia within one point of first-place New York City FC for the top spot in the MLS Eastern Conference. The Union have 15 games remaining, but it's already a far cry from last year’s ninth-place finish.
With Ilsinho back at full strength after an early-season injury, C.J. Sapong returning to the lineup and Chris Pontius looking lively down the left, the Union’s attack looks as strong as it's been in all season. Add in Alberg (six goals) and Tranquillo Barnetta (two goals), and it could be the best attacking group in the club’s history.
That showed on Saturday, with Pontius drawing a penalty that led to the first goal and Sapong also creating numerous scoring opportunities, with only Hamid preventing what could have been a four- or five-goal outing.
All in the Union locker room were thrilled to see Ilsinho get going, including Pontius, who spent the last seven years with United.
“Huge. Huge,” the veteran midfielder said. “He’s worked hard all year, he’s put himself in good spots, he’s created a lot of goals for us and now it’s nice to see him get two for himself.”