CHESTER, Pa. – When Shaun Wright-Phillips and his younger brother, Bradley, played together at Manchester City early in their careers, they never were able to combine for a goal. Oh, they tried, but it just never seemed to work out.
“Yeah, yeah. He tried to set me up when I was at City with him, a lot of times, you know,” Bradley said. “He was being very biased and I couldn't finish them so he was mad at me. Today, I concentrated on the cut-back and put it in the back of the net.”
Saturday night, when Shaun Wright-Phillips had the ball in the left side of the box just 13 minutes into his Major League Soccer debut, Bradley knew just where to be. Stationed at the top of the goalie box to the left of the penalty spot, Bradley easily steered in Shaun’s cross for the game-winning goal in a 3-1 victory over the Philadelphia Union before a crowd of 18,883 at PPL Park.
The victory, on a day when MLS set a single-day record for goals with 39, vaulted the Red Bulls (9-6-5) into second place in the Eastern Conference, nine points behind D.C. United but with four games in hand.
“To be honest, when the ball came down, first of all I was just thinking about making some space to try and get an assist and put somebody on the end of it, and it worked out perfectly,” Shaun said. “I just know from playing that, when you hit the byline, try and cut it back rather than go cross the face of goal, and luckily my brother, someone, was there.”
The goal, which came a minute after the Union tied the score, gave the Red Bulls a 2-1 lead in a game that saw both teams far from their best in the first half. The second half, however, saw four goals, four yellow cards and enough fouls and finger-pointing to kick this rivalry up a notch.
“I thought it was probably our worst half of the season,” captain Dax McCarty said. “Philly beat us in every facet of the game. It’s hilarious how soccer is sometimes. I thought it was one of our worst games of the season and we come out and win, 3-1. The other two games against Philly we completely dominate, they don’t have a sniff in the game and they beat us the first game and beat us on penalties the second game.”
But all anyone wanted to talk about was Shaun Wright-Phillips, who entered a scoreless game in the 61st minute and immediately made an impact.
Bradley Wright-Phillips had the ball in the left side of the box in the 65th minute and saw Shaun cutting toward goal. Bradley put the pass on target but Shaun cleverly slowed up enough to cause Union midfielder Tranquillo Barnetta, who was making his MLS debut, to tumble into him from behind and knock him over just inside the box.
Sacha Kljestan converted the penalty kick a minute later to give the Red Bulls a 1-0 lead.
“He's a smart soccer player, and you can see how quick and crafty he is and how good he is around the goal,” Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch said. “Even the one that he missed wide he took so well and we've seen him score that repeatedly in training, so he's going to be dangerous and he provides us with something a little different than what we have.
“We all know we're getting a good player, but it was certainly good to see him step on the field and make an impact so quickly.”
To Shaun Wright-Phillips, it was just about playing his game.
“It wasn’t so much for the impact for me. I thought it was a hard game for us,” he said. “Philly played really well, especially in the first half, and kind of stopped us playing our game, but in the second half even from the start the boys started playing away and stringing some passes together. I thought that when I come on I just had to come up to that and hopefully create a few chances that some of us could get in.”
Playing without injured midfielder Vincent Nogueira, who gave the Red Bulls fits the previous two meetings this year, the Union (6-13-4) tied the game in the 73rd minute. Cristian Maidana collected the ball on the right side and drove a low, hard cross across the face of goal. The ball struck the foot of Union forward Fernando Aristeguieta and Sebastien Le Toux charged in and lined a shot into the top of the net.
But the lead didn’t last long as the Wright-Phillips brothers combined for the winner a minute later.
“It's always going to have meaning if you can help your brother achieve his targets, but I think the most meaningful part is we got three points on the road and we just have to carry on to the next game,” Shaun Wright-Phillips said.
With goalkeeper Luis Robles making critical saves to maintain the lead, the Red Bulls scored the third goal in the fourth and final minute of stoppage time. McCarty did well to push the ball up field to Kljestan on the right and start a 2-on-1 break with substitute Anatole Abang. With the Union’s Maurice Edu the only defender back, Kljestan led Abang perfectly and the 19-year-old Abang took one touch before curling a shot from the top of the box that found the lower right corner.
“Yeah yeah, it was great. It was great to see. You can see they really enjoyed it,” said Marsch, whose team has won five of its past six MLS games. “They're both such good players that they're going to naturally enjoy playing with each other and I think it’s so much more than just being brothers, the fact that they're both so smart and quality footballers.
“We knew (Shaun) would make a difference. He’s been training with us for the last few weeks. We know what he's capable of, to our advantage, the league is not fully aware of and I think he put that on display today, so people are going to take notice. He's a fantastic player and his resume speaks for itself and I know that he's going to be a big part of what we're doing in the second half of the season.”
Added Robles: “We knew after watching him train with us the last couple weeks that he was going to be an important player, it was just a matter of time before he gets on the field. Once the signing was done and once it got completed, we felt good about him coming onto the field this week. So to be able to look on your bench and see Shaun Wright-Phillips as your substitute, I think that brings a lot of confidence to Jesse, the staff, and to our guys. He was brilliant.”
The only disappointing aspect of the match was a yellow card to defender Damien Perrinelle, who will have to sit out Wednesday night’s game against the Impact in Montreal due to yellow-card accumulaton.
“We all know that we can play better, but taking three points from them, a conference rival, a team that’s close by, a team that’s knocked us out of the (Open) Cup, so we got a little bit of revenge,” Kljestan said. “I think we’re going to go on a good run from here.”