Bradley Wright-Phillips celebrates one of his goals he scored against Minnesota.(Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
HARRISON, N.J. — He has earned two MLS Golden Boots, has tallied more than 100 goals across all competitions for his team and has averaged more than 20 goals a season in his four full years in the league.
Yet, there is a feeling that the fabulous Bradley Wright-Phillips hasn’t been given his due, despite his accomplishments and numbers.
At least that’s what Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch thinks.
“He should be underrated,” he said after BWP secured a brace in his team’s 3-0 victory over Minnesota United at Red Bull Arena Saturday night. “He should be the most underrated player in league history. That should be his moniker because he proves every night how good he is.”
First, many observers thought that the presence of Thierry Henry was the reason Wright-Phillips filled the net on a regular basis. After the French legend retired, Sacha Kljestan was brought in to be the team’s playmaker and many observers gave the former Seton Hall University midfielder credit for many of the English striker’s goals.
Now, with Kljestan departed for Orlando City SC, Wright-Phillips still can’t be stopped. Through first seven games over two competitions — league and CONCACAF Champions League — BWP has scored or created goals at an astounding rate. He has six goals and four assists.
Of the 11 leading MLS goal-scorers in history, Wright-Phillips has the best average of goals per minute, connecting once every 126.7 minutes. He has 89 goals and is on a pace to become the fastest player in league history to reach 100 goals, barring a major slump or injuries.
Actually, if you want to get technical, he already has reached the century mark. BWP’s total goals over all competitions is at 106, and counting which includes MLS, playoffs, Lamar Hunt/U.S. Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League.
“I think Jesse should go asleep every night thanking God for Bradley Wright-Phillips,” captain and goalkeeper Luis Robles said.
During his postgame press conference, it certainly sounded like Marsch has said that already.
“There is this perception that Brad is not one of the premier players in this league,” he said. “Brad got a couple of shots in on him early in the game, and — he [doesn’t] gets the call; like why doesn’t Bradley Wright-Phillips garner the respect of the premier players of this league? You could make an argument that he is the best player to ever play in this league and the best goal-scorer to ever play this this league and he should be treated as such.”
When told what Marsch had said, the ever-humble BWP responded, “Jesse’s very kind. He’s a kind man. I’d rather not talk about it; it is what it is. We bounced back well from Salt Lake. It was what we needed and the boys reacted well.”
Wright-Phillips was referring to New York’s rather lackluster performance in last week’s 1-0 defeat at Real Salt Lake.
This season, BWP has been scoring and creating goals at that ridiculous clip through the CCL and MLS. He has six goals and four assists (sorry one of the goals he set up in the second leg against Tijuana wasn’t counted as an assist because CONCACAF allows only one assist per goal, according to its scoring rules).
That’s 10 goals over 474 minutes in seven matches. That comes out to being part of a goal every 47.4 minutes, an astonishing production number for any player.
“I put a lot of work into the offseason,” BWP said. “I felt I came back sharp. Goals aside or assists aside, I came back sharp. I feel I can get around the pitch easier. And I’m enjoying it more, the beginning of the season.”
Marsch has seen the difference since the start of preseason in January.
“You know, it was tricky on him last year because he had the baby in the beginning of preseason and didn’t really get to get himself going,” he said. “This year, he came in really fit, ready to go. Obviously, we’ve had to put some high demands on him early in the year in some big games and he’s responded.
“So it’s obviously a very good sign that this early on, he’s so sharp and so lethal and now the key for me is trying to always get the balance right so that we’re not running him into the ground and make sure that he’s fresh week-after-week, so you know, Brad always wants to play, he always wants to train. He’s one of the most amazing people to be around.”
Most Red Bulls fans already know that Wright-Phillips can be one dangerous goal-poacher, someone who will take advantage of an opponents’’ mistake and turn it into a goal. But the man who wears No. 99 does some other things as well.
“Not only does the guy score goals, but he sets up defensively our mentality,” Robles said. “He pushes, he presses, he does whatever it takes up front for us to create turnovers. When you have a guy like that who has created such a high standard, not only by his scoring rate, but his work rate, then everyone is held accountable. So Bradley is a huge part of what we’re doing.
“I’m thankful that I’ve been teammates with Brad this number of years because we have been a part of a lot of wins, a lot of great performances. It’s amazing. No matter how many goals this guy scores, no matter how many good performances he has, I think he’s just underrated in this league. He’s under-appreciated, But not here, not in this organization. We know that everything we do starts with Brad.”
Near the end of the media scrum in front of Wright-Phillips’ locker, someone brought up about the fact about being underestimated.
“You know, I’d rather be underrated, then people don’t see you coming,” he said. “You can slide under the radar. If I am, maybe it’s worth it for me. Maybe it’s better that way.”
Underrated or underestimated, the words don’t matter when BWP is on the field. It just seems that everything he touches turns to goal.