Ilsinho is the kind of player whose unique qualities are sometimes easier to feel than to measure or describe.
The skillful Brazilian has an “it factor” matched by few in MLS, able to unbalance defenses and embarrass opponents at any moment with with a deceptive touch or quicksilver movement. And this season his coach, Jim Curtin, has weaponized his 33-year-old veteran to maximum impact with a supersub role that’s delivered a steady stream of positive results for the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Union.
Just how much impact are we talking about? As it turns out, it’s dramatic enough to measure quite easily.
MLSsoccer.com’s Armchair Analyst Matt Doyle calculates the Union have enjoyed a +26 goal differential when Ilsinho is on the field this season, a trend exemplified by Saturday’s 3-1 comeback win over Atlanta United at Talen Energy Stadium.
Philly were down 1-0 when #Skilsinho entered in place of Fafa Picault in the 58th minute. Three minutes later, Brenden Aaronsen smashed home the equalizer, and in the game's dying minutes Kacper Przybylko capped a quick counterattack with the winner, then took a pass from Ilsinho and served up Sergio Santos for the icer.
In the 893 minutes played by Ilsinho — that adds up to just shy of 10 full matches — the Union have scored 33 goals and given up just seven. According to Opta, his 0.43 expected assists per 90 minutes is tops in MLS, as is his 4.63 dribbles completed per 90. His mark of 1.31 non-penalty goals plus assists per 90 ranks second only to Golden Boot presented by Audi frontrunner Carlos Vela (who’s at 1.37).
Certainly the numbers generated by the former Shakhtar Donetsk man benefit from his team’s collective quality and playing style, with their ability to press and possess at high tempos often grinding down opponents.
But with five goals and eight assists already in 23 appearances (just six of them starts), Ilsinho has also made clear that he’s one of Philly’s leading attacking protagonists, not just along for the ride. This was perhaps most dramatically illustrated in his MLS Player of the Week-winning appearance against the New York Red Bulls back on June 8, where he scored twice and assisted on a third to lead a comeback from 2-0 down to 3-2 winners: