The Philadelphia Union stayed top of the East after overcoming a 2-0 halftime deficit courtesy of some Ilsinho magic.
The Brazilian playmaker came on for Brenden Aaronson in the 53rd minute and single-handedly brought the Union back from the brink of another disappointing home result. After giving up two sloppy goals against the run of play, a sold-out Talen Energy Stadium was silent as the team walked off the field at halftime. It seemed to be a repeat of the past few home games where the team struggled to be clinical in the final third after dominating possession, but when Ilsinho’s substitution was announced the crowd roared back to life.
Ilsinho didn’t disappoint, immediately running past his defender after being subbed on. Seven minutes later, Ilsinho ghosted his defender on the wing and played a beautiful cross into Monteiro who put it in the far corner past Red Bull keeper Luis Robles. Just one minute later (in the second quickest pair of goals scored in Union history) Ilsinho took on three defenders after a pass from Bedoya and finished past Luis Robles to tie the game. Ilsinho wasn’t done yet though, and he buried the rebound after Robles made a fantastic save on Jamiro Monteiro’s penalty to complete the comeback, and give the Union a crucial 3-2 victory heading into the Gold Cup break.
In the first half, the Union were forced into playing compact soccer, concentrated mostly on the left side of the torn-up pitch. Divots were flying and the Red Bulls were able to force the Union into turnovers before they could get the ball into dangerous spots.
The Red Bulls opened the scoring in the 29th minute off of a devastatingly clinical counter. Kai Wagner gave Kyle Duncan too much space and he played the ball perfectly to an onrushing Kaku, who finished it past Blake.
Three minutes before halftime the Red Bulls scored again after a miscommunication from the defense. Brian White chipped Blake in the middle of two defenders, and Blake really should have come out and grabbed the ball.
Sergio Santos had a great look at goal in the first half and should have put the Union in front 1-0 after being played through by a great ball from Alejandro Bedoya, but his shot just missed, skimming off the top of the cross bar, and the Union finished the half only registering a single shot on goal.
But soccer is a two-half sport for a reason and the Union could have easily scored two or three more goals than they did in the second half if Robles didn’t stand on his head several times. Ultimately, Ilsinho’s pure skill, and the tactical switch to the 4-2-3-1 made the difference in what could have been another frustrating night. Once Ilsinho came on, the Union played less compact offensively and used the wings to create space in the middle.
Jim Curtin said it best in the post game presser, “Ilsinho’s good at soccer.”
The Union’s comeback victory over a Red Bull team that had gone 5 matches unbeaten registers as one of their best and most important victories in team history. The second half performance could be the defining moment of this season.
Blake deserves a shout out for some great second half saves to keep the Union in the game and Bedoya had an assist, and earned the penalty after what looked like a deliberate cross into a sliding defender’s outstretched arm in the box.
This team has flaws, namely poor finishing and a lack of final third creativity when Ilsinho’s off the pitch, but they have the potential to be the best team in the East at the end of the season. Sure, the defense needs to be cleaner than they were tonight, and yes, the team can’t expect Ilsinho to rescue them every game, but the backbone of this Union squad is strong and the comeback tonight showed that they believe they can beat anyone and everyone.
* Two wooden Red Bulls were burned in the parking lot before the game by the Sons of Ben
What did you think about the comeback win? Let us know in the comments!