WILMINGTON — The Union announced a new one-year deal for fan favorite Ilsinho on Friday, bringing the dynamic 34-year-old Brazilian winger back to Chester for a fifth season here.
Negotiations took a while to get over the line, for reasons that were clear to all. Ilsinho’s best position is on the right wing in a 4-2-3-1 formation, but the Union aren’t going to play that much this year.
And while he has perhaps the best individual ball skills of any player in team history, they can last only so long — even in his role as a super-sub.
But he and his family wanted to stay here, and that mattered a lot.
“It feels like home,” he said after practice Friday, no small statement for a player whose 14-year pro career has taken him across three continents.
“When I finished last season, Plan A was to be here for two more years, three more years. But I have to look for what’s the best for me and for my family. At the end of the day, we decided to be at home, to be here one more year. I like every single guy here, I like to come to practice, and that counted a lot in my decision.”
So did his family. His wife wanted to stay here with their two children.
“It’s definitely the best place to be for me and my family, living in the United States,” he added.
Last year was Ilsinho’s best with the Union, as he delivered five goals and six assists in 31 games. His signature performance came in a 3-2 comeback win over the New York Red Bulls in June, when he led the charge back from 2-0 down with an assist, the tying goal, and the winner.
The Union made an offer when the season ended. While we won’t know the specifics until the MLS Players Association publishes them in the spring, it’s nearly certain that Ilsinho took a significant pay cut from the $357,000 he earned last year.
There were also some foreign suitors, Union manager Jim Curtin said Friday.
At the start of this week, sporting director Ernst Tanner said an offer had been on the table for a while with “no space for negotiations."
Ilsinho said he made his decision a few days ago.
“That’s the business, right?” he said. “It wasn’t a big deal, but we had to negotiate a little bit.”
Ilsinho knows the clock is running on his playing days. He would make an ideal coach in the Union’s academy when he hangs up his cleats. But he isn’t there yet.
“Every season I’m just thinking [to] be healthy during the season, and when I finish that season, I start to think of what I have to do to be more healthy next season,” he said. “I never thought about ending my career, finishing playing. I just think [about] what I can do to be better and better. One day — this day is coming, soon or not — I have to think about that. But I think it’s too early.”
For now, he’s aiming to play more than the 1,296 minutes over 31 games he registered last year.
“Since I came here, I told Jimmy I’m here to help — help to defend, help to attack,” he said. “It doesn’t matter which formation we play. For sure I prefer to play as a winger, but if it doesn’t fit this year, we have to find the best way to play.”
Ilsinho has played centrally here before, and could see some time at the top of the midfield diamond. The most intriguing possibility might be as one of two attackers in a box-shaped midfield, which would give him more latitude on the right side.