By RYAN TOLMICH
HARRISON, N.J. — After missing out on his team’s last two games due to injury, Bradley Wright-Phillips made his triumphant return Saturday night by picking up right where he left off.
Wright-Phillips led the way with a hat-trick as the New York Red Bulls overwhelmed the visiting Seattle Sounders, 4-1, at Red Bull Arena.
Less than 30 seconds from the opening kickoff, Wright-Phillips, who head coach Mike Petke admitted was questionable heading into the match, scored his 22nd goal of the season to give the Red Bulls the early 1-0 lead.
The 29-year-old forward’s opener was created by winger Lloyd Sam, who worked into space on the right side. Sam then played in a cross to Wright-Phillips, who laid the ball off to a trailing Ambroise Oyongo. The midfielder’s initial shot was saved by Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei, but the ensuing rebound trickled into the path of Wright-Phillips, who smashed the ball into the net to open up a 1-0 lead.
“When you haven’t played for a couple of games, it’s good to not do anything and get a tap in,” Wright-Phillips said of his first goal. “I was happy with that.”
“We designed a play to score in the first 30 seconds,” joked Petke after the game. “I’m serious, it worked just right.”
The Red Bulls continued to create a majority of the chances throughout the first half, the best of which came from a Sam effort in the 21st minute.
Sam’s chance came via a Wright-Phillips pass, as the two Englishmen connected as Sam darted through the Sounders’ backline. The winger’s effort was on target, but Frei parried the shot away to keep the Red Bull advantage to just one at halftime.
Despite the early goal, the Red Bulls said they went into the locker room knowing that more goals were needed if the team was to hold off the league’s top side.
“At halftime we said that we needed another goal,” Sam said. “We knew that was important. You know how we’ve been this season. We can concede at any time over something stupid. We knew we needed another goal.”
However, the Sounders could only keep the Red Bulls off the board for so long, as Wright-Phillips added his second goal of the night from the penalty spot in the 54th minute to double the hosts’ advantage.
The penalty kick was drawn by Sam, who cut in from the right wing to drive toward goal before being taken down by Sounders defender Dylan Remick. Wright-Phillips stepped up to take the ensuing penalty kick and made no mistake to score his second of the night.
Just two minutes later, Wright-Phillips completed his hat-trick by burying a cross from Roy Miller, pushing the lead to 3-0.
Miller, who found space on the left side, played a chipped through ball into the path of Wright-Phillips, who fired home first-time from the center of the box for his third hat trick of the season. Wright-Phillips was substituted moments later in favor of Tim Cahill.
“I didn’t really (expect to score three goals),” Wright-Phillips said. “I know Seattle are a dangerous team. I was thinking more about us just keeping a clean sheet. I wasn’t expecting a hat-trick, but that’s how football works.”
“Bradley with three goals tonight,” Petke said. “Huge goals, great goals. I’m proud of him and I’ve told (the media) a million times that his focus isn’t on the (MLS record of 27 goals), but the record would be icing on the cake for him. He’s producing for his and I’m very happy.”
The Sounders pulled one back in the 63rd minute through substitute Clint Dempsey, who entered just moments earlier to a raucous ovation from the Red Bull Arena crowd.
The U.S. Men’s National Team captain buried a shot off a feed from midfielder Lamar Neagle, who took advantage of a poor clearance from defender Ibrahim Sekagya to play Dempsey through for a tap-in finish.
“When you have a guy like Dempsey, as clever as Dempsey, a guy like that can create damage all the time,” said Thierry Henry. “We knew we had to put ourselves in a position where we would be at least one or two or three, like we were, goals ahead because if the goal from Dempsey came at 1-1 or 2-1, it would have been a different type of game.”
However, the Sounders’ hopes lasted just three minutes before Cahill made his presence felt, as the Australian international pushed the scoreline to 4-1 with a goal of his own.
With the Red Bulls bearing down, Sounders defender Djimi Traore mishit a clearance, sending the ball right into the path of Cahill, who calmly placed the ball in the net to restore the three goal lead.
“Tim was fantastic,” said midfielder Dax McCarty. “Great atttitude… His goal was great for him, great for his confidence. He’s been unlucky, because obviously he should have more goals this year.”
The Red Bulls lead remained until the final whistle due to a pair of spectacular saves by Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles, whose second stop came on a close range Dempsey effort in a save-of-the-week contender
With the victory, the Red Bulls pick up their third win in four games, while the Sounders fall for just the second time in their last six.
The Red Bulls now face a midweek trip to El Salvador, where they will take on CD FAS on Sept. 24 in CONCACAF Champions League action. Meanwhile, the Sounders now face their fourth game in 12 days when they visit FC Dallas that same day.
Here are the match highlights: