In the days that preceded the announcement of England’s 2014 World Cup roster, there was much consternation over which forwards would be selected to represent the nation that is the birthplace of the world game.
Heavily favored to win its group four years earlier in South Africa, and having suffered the indignity of a 1-1 draw against the United States in the 2010 Group Stage, there was pressure on then manager Roy Hodgson to get it right; to markedly improve on the Round of 16 elimination under Fabio Capello in the previous World Cup cycle.
Hodgson’s selections at the time seemed logical: the legendary Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge, Danny Welbeck, and Rickie Lambert. One MLS player, Jermain Defoe of Toronto FC, would be listed among the alternates. ESPN at the time held broadcasting rights to the tournament and Steve Nicol was asked about the possible inclusion of the Red Bulls’ Bradley Wright-Phillips to the squad. The former Scotland international and 1986 World Cup participant quipped: “He couldn’t get a game in the Championship.” He was referring to second tier football in England.
Wright-Phillips would continue on his path that summer towards an MLS record-tying 27 goal season. Eight days into the 2014 FIFA World Cup, after losses to Italy and Uruguay. England was eliminated from knockout round contention.
Nicol was right. Bradley Wright-Phillips would not have saved England. And the remark about BWP’s place in soccer’s pecking order didn’t hurt anyone either. Wright-Phillips was too busy crafting his game under the tutelage of Thierry Henry. Too busy becoming what is quite possibly the most efficient pure striker in MLS’ 22-year-history. It’s debatable. But it’s a reasonable debate.
Bradley Wright-Phillips nets his 73rd career goal for the Red Bulls after tapping home Daniel Royer's cross.
BWP’s goal in the Red Bulls’ 2-1 victory over Chicago to complete a perfect New York homestand Saturday marked his 73rd career regular season tally and 81st for the club in all competitions. Only two other players in franchise history, Henry and Juan Pablo Angel, scored as many as 50 for the Red Bulls in regular season, playoff, and tournament play combined. At age 32, Wright-Phillips is far from finished, having signed a Designated Player multi-year contract that pays him in excess of $1.6 million per according to figures released by the MLS Players Union last week.
He’s been fortunate. Henry was a demanding captain consistently highlighting Wright-Phillips’ flaws, and not his strengths. The French legend made him a better player. Present day captain Sacha Kljestan’s playmaking acumen has continued to fuel Wright-Phillips’ three-year assault on the league. BWP’s 68 goals scored between 2014 and 2016 are the most by any MLS player over three full regular seasons and it’s not even close (Chris Wondolowski 61 goals from 2010-2012). Only three others have scored 15+ goals in three consecutive MLS seasons: Robbie Keane, Raul Diaz Arce, and Wondolowski.
The good ones consistently reach higher. I asked Jesse Marsch about Wright-Phillips’ ambition to live up to the mega-contract and what needs to be better. Nine games into the season he is initiating more contact with defenders and not waiting for it to happen. What looked like a simple finish of a Danny Royer pass Saturday was not. It was clinical.
He is never going to be the mega star that American-born MLS strikers Landon Donovan and Brian McBride were in this league. His celebrity status in New York will pale in comparison to David Villa’s across the Hudson. His World Cup memories will be limited to brother Shaun’s contribution to England in 2010. MLS observers will tell you he’s not one of the league’s handful of players that are singlehandedly worth the price of admission.
Bradley Wright-Phillips is none of the above. He is simply a man with a green card, in the brightest of places personally, professionally, and I’d imagine now financially.
We’ve become OPTA-centric, Audi Index obsessed observers of the league and those analytics have helped us become a savvy soccer audience. The idea, however, is simply to put a ball in the back of the net more times than the opposition. More than any present-day MLS player, in any given 90-minute span, I’d put my money on Bradley Wright-Phillips to do it. Even for the London-born striker, that has to mean 10 times as much as a game in the Championship.