Photo by USA Today Sports
By RYAN TOLMICH
“Hey, Bradley,” yelled New York Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles after last Saturday’s 4-2 victory over the Montreal Impact. “Did you break a record today, man?”
A few lockers down from Robles sat that night’s game ball, awarded to this season’s breakout star, Bradley Wright-Phillips, in commemoration of a brace that saw the Englishman become the Red Bulls’ top single-season goal scorer with 20 through just 23 games played.
The previous Red Bulls record was 19 goals, set by Juan Pablo Angel in 2007.
It didn’t look like a record-setting day at first, as Wright-Phillips struggled throughout the opening 45 minutes of Saturday’s clash, coming to a head during an early sequence that Wright-Phillips jokingly claimed was a “deflection” and not a miss from point-blank range.
The 29-year-old’s struggles ceased in the second half, though, as he netted pair of goals to break the seven-year-old mark held by Angel.
Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke, who played with Angel during his stint with the Red Bulls, revealed pride in Wright-Phillips’ achievements, but he also pointed out just how far the forward had come in under a year’s time.
“If you had told me that he’d be on 20 goals with 10 games left, I would’ve laughed at you, to be honest with you,” Petke said. “We laugh about it now because even in preseason shooting practice Bradley couldn’t score. It got worse and worse for him, but he’s worked incredibly hard and he’s a phenomenal person. I’m extremely happy to have him on my team.”
Petke also took time to pay homage to Angel achievements.
“As far as Juan Pablo Angel, yes, I played with him,” Petke added. “He’s a phenomenal goalscorer. If anybody’s going to beat the record, I think Bradley certainly deserves to. Juan Pablo is a legend for this club and, hopefully, we have Bradley for as long as we had Juan Pablo.”
Wright-Phillips’ strike partner, Thierry Henry, was more critical than complementary of his teammate’s achievement, perhaps a display of his regard for Wright-Phillips’ potential.
“I think he should’ve have done that after 10 games into the season,” Henry said. “He scored two today and missed five. You guys are laughing but it’s true… I’m not having a go. I’m just saying if you look for how you can improve and I keep on telling him, I keep on saying, ‘You should already be on 35-40 goals.’ I’m not even joking.”
Whatever his final tally is, Wright-Phillips said the last thing he wants on his mind is the MLS single-season scoring record, currently held by Roy Lassiter and Chris Wondolowski with 27 goal apiece. Instead, he hopes to go at it blind and focus on the team’s results.
“No, I don’t want to know,” Wright-Phillips said when asked about his knowledge the overall record. “I don’t want (to hear) anymore. I don’t want to see anything on Twitter.”
To think, Wright-Phillips is afraid social media can achieve something that no MLS team has been able to do this season: stop him from scoring.