Bradley Wright-Phillips: “To have a number retired and Denis and Marc to be saying those kind of things about me is the last thing on my mind.” (Noah K. Murray — USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Never in his greatest dreams did Bradley Wright-Phillips think he would find success like this in Major League Soccer.
After a sputtering start with the Red Bulls five years ago, BWP has become a club legend — for his production, consistency and even humility.
After the 2-1 win over the LA Football Club Sunday night, the English striker was honored in the most unique and ultimate way — Wright-Phillips will have his No. 99 retired after he retires, whenever that happens.
He shows no signs of slowing down. At the age of 33, he has a team-high 14 goals in 18 matches. He also has six assists, one shy of his career best.
Last week Wright-Phillips became the 11th player in Major League Soccer history to reach 100 goals, the reason he was honored at Red Bull Arena.
In fact, BWP has no plans of hanging up his boots.
“I don’t know, I feel good,” he said. “I feel fit, sharp. I said from the beginning of the season, this is my best off-season. I’ve done a lot of work and this season, I feel way better than I did last season.
“If it’s up to me, football, you can never say — whenever it’s up to me, I’ll stay here forever.”
When he joined the Red Bulls during the 2013 season, BWP admitted he never thought he would enjoy this success.
“No, I can’t lie, no. I definitely didn’t think I’d get a hundred goals,” he said. “I think, me as a person, I don’t think that far forward, anyway, but to have a number retired and Denis and Marc to be saying those kind of things about me is the last thing on my mind.”
Wright-Phillips was referring to Red Bulls sporting director Denis Hamlett and general manager Marc de Grandpre.
In his native England, BWP was a middling forward. In MLS, he has blossomed into an impact player and then some.
“Like I came here to kind of get away from England and yeah, make my own name for myself,” he said.
“I didn’t realize how much I was in the shadows. I had had that question so many times but I didn’t realize I was in the shadows until I came here and it was good, because not a lot of people knew who my dad was, I don’t know if they followed Arsenal in those days. So it was nice to be Bradley Wright-Phillips and not Ian’s son — was that all answer all right? You had kind of a blank stare on your face.”
Wright-Phillips is the son of former England striker Ian Wright.
It took him five games before he tallied his first goal with his new team in 2013, but the striker showed few signs he would become a dominant figure on his team, let alone in the league.
“It’s not often someone comes in straightaway and explodes,” Wright-Phillips said. “I had a hamstring injury and I wasn’t in the team all the time, so I didn’t think I’d be gone, I didn’t know how things worked here; I’m just working my way in. Maybe when I look back, it’s lucky they kind of kept me. Looking back, I fought my way in, and I thought, I’ll have another year, but who knows.”
Red Bulls head coach Chris Armas, who has been around the team the last few years, understood how special BWP has been as a player and a person.
“Every so often, a guy like this comes around and you can only be so fortunate to spend some time with a player and a person like this,” he said.
“So for every young player, either in our academy and comes through, and first-team player, how for fortunate that they can watch a guy and remind guys — and I tell players, watch this guy: Watch how he shows up every day and watch what real work looks like. Watch how he interacts people. Watch how he takes to Nancy, the woman who prepares our food. Watch how he deals with the bus drivers, and it goes on and on and on.
“He gets it. He gets life this way.”
At the top of the post-game press conference, BWP thanked the media.
“First of all, I want to thank you guys for all the criticism over five years — no, I’m joking. Honestly, thank you for covering me,” he said. “You’ve said some nice things, yeah, and it’s been a nice journey, so thank you, keep it up. Keep the nice remarks. We’ll have a good relationship.”