The all-time leading goal scorer in franchise history, Wright-Phillips has been sidelined with a groin injury, one that he admits was painful to play through. In his absence, young forwards Brian White and Tom Barlow have stepped in to not just play well but also produce in the Red Bulls system.
Now, with the two-time Golden Boot winner training and looking fit, the Red Bulls have quality and depth at their disposal at what is now essentially the mid-point of their season.
Wright-Phillips has been out for over two months, having last suited up for the Red Bulls on April 20. While his return always seemed in the offing since early June, Wright-Phillips finally returned to the training pitch last week.
Monday’s session was his third-time in practice since the injury and he worked the full session without any limitations or modifications. This is a good sign for the Red Bulls, who host the Chicago Fire this Friday.
He said he “had the option to step out a little earlier” but he felt comfortable during Monday’s training.
“Honestly, I feel good. This is one of the best days I felt during training,” Wright-Phillips said. “I think I joined in, a week ago, I wasn’t moving as good. Today I felt a lot sharper. It feels.”
For three years now, the Red Bulls have been paper-thin at forward besides Wright-Phillips. Now, with the emergence of White and Barlow, the team has good depth so that the two-time Golden Boot winner doesn’t have to be rushed back into the Starting XI.
Head coach Chris Armas was pleased to see his forward work a full session on Monday.
“He’s trained now regularly so I think he’s very close,” Armas said.
“It will just be a matter of how we want to utilize him and what type of minutes … He’ll make a case right away for himself because when he’s out there, he brings the work ethic [and] the quality, experience. He’s a leader on our team. He’s looking more like himself. The best thing is he’s not in pain every day, the best news about [this] besides having him out there and the presence that he is. There are decisions to make. Brian White and Tom Barlow have done a lot with their minutes. These are good scenarios for us, that we have options.”
Earlier in his career in England, Wright-Phillips had a knee injury that he remembers shelving him for an extended period of time. Since then, he has been remarkably injury-free since moving to MLS at the tail end of the 2015 season.
In his five full seasons in the league up until this year, Wright-Phillips has averaged almost 33 regular season appearances. He remembers the frustration of that knee injury as a young player, likening it to his recent groin injury.
“That was a while ago since then I haven’t been out that long. I didn’t know what to do with myself,” Wright-Phillips said before cracking a couple of jokes on the matter.
“I had to be a real father, I had to take part [at] home. It’s been tough not being able to train. It’s just like a kid with the first day of school. It’s like being in preseason for the first time.”
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