HARRISON, N.J. – Bradley Wright-Phillips will not call this the best season of his career yet, but you only needed to look at his locker on Saturday night to realize just how special the year is shaping up to be for him.
Wright-Phillips’ remarkable campaign for the New York Red Bulls continued on Saturday night, as he bagged a second-half brace that gave him a league-leading 20 goals on the year and broke the club’s single-season scoring record. The two tallies were the difference in the Red Bulls’ 4-2 home win over the Montreal Impact, and instantly became unforgettable moments engraved in club lore.
They are why Wright-Phillips placed the ball that he broke legendary striker Juan Pablo Angel’s record with in his locker room after the win before leaving with his newest souvenir. And why he was named the Man of the Match at Red Bull Arena despite a fired up Thierry Henry scoring two goals of his own and assisting on another. And why his teammates and coaches showered him with praise and talked about how far he’s come as player in his year-and-a-half in New York.
“Early this year – in the first two weeks, three weeks of preseason – if you had told me that he’d be on 20 goals with 10 games left, I would’ve laughed at you,” said Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke. “We laugh about it now because even in preseason in shooting practice, Bradley couldn’t score. It got worse and worse for him, but he’s worked incredibly hard, he’s a phenomenal person. I’m extremely happy to have him on my team.
“He’s willing to learn and he wants to learn and he does anything I’ve asked of him,” continued Petke. “The thing that goes unnoticed about Bradley are the little things: his positioning, the way he moves, him cleaning up his first touch, which six, seven, eight months ago it was lacking. … If anybody’s going to beat the record, I think Bradley certainly deserves to. Juan Pablo is a legend for this club, and hopefully we have Bradley around for as long as we had Juan Pablo.”
While the night ended in memorable fashion for Wright-Phillips, it did not start out in the best of ways. Lloyd Sam fed him with a cross in the seventh minute, and Wright-Phillips botched what should’ve have been an easy finish in front of an open goal.
The miss came back to haunt the Red Bulls, who fell behind to a Dilly Duka goal eight minutes before halftime. But Wright-Phillips did not let that miscue get to him, demonstrating the type of confidence, swagger and short memory that great forwards are made of.
“It’s too early in the game to think that,” said Wright-Phillips when asked if he thought it would not be his night after his early mishap. “I just thought that, ‘I’m getting chances and that was unlucky.’ It was a great ball by Lloyd, the defender or the ‘keeper did well to get a touch on it.
“I actually thought it was going to be a decent night.”
Was it ever.
After Henry ignited the Red Bulls’ offensive explosion in the second half, Wright-Phillips found the back of the net in the 74th minute with a cool finish. That strike tied Angel’s record, but Wright-Phillips was not content with just pulling even and he surpassed the milestone set in 2007 by slotting home a pass from substitute Peguy Luyindula in the waning moments.
“I think he should’ve have done that after 10 games into the season,” Henry, ever the perfectionist, said about the record. “He scored two today and missed five. You guys are laughing but it’s true. I told him he’s going to have to make sure that when he has one, it’s a goal because maybe in one game he’s going to have one [chance]. It’s not every day that you’re going have five opportunities or six or seven, and he’s scoring some of them.
“I’m not having a go. I’m just saying if you look for how you can improve and I keep on telling him, I keep on saying, ‘You should already be on 35-40 goals.’ I’m not even joking.”
That might be out of reach with 10 games remaining in the season, but a realistic mark that is now slowly creeping into the conversation is 27. Chris Wondolowski and Roy Lassiter currently co-own the record for most goals in an MLS season with that total – a fact that Wright-Phillips is unaware of and hopes to continue to be for the foreseeable future – but Red Bulls players have full confidence that their forward can outdo that number.
It will be tough given some of the remaining opponents on the schedule, but Wright-Phillips has proven time and again this season that his scoring tear is no fluke. He had a record-breaking ball in his locker on Saturday to prove it, and might soon have another.
“He’s an extreme goal threat as we’ve seen all season and that’s the main thing,” said Sam. “In and around the box, we’ve got guys that can get him the ball and he’s been carrying us with his goals. He’s so dangerous around goal. Long may it continue.”