One hundred goals for any player is an incredible achievement. To hit that magic number is one thing, but to do it for just one club is another.
In the 22 years MLS has been around, only 11 players have surpassed the 100 goal barrier in the league, and even fewer have done so for just one club.
Bradley Wright-Phillips, the son of Arsenal and England legend Ian Wright, is one of those players, and he might just be the greatest import in MLS history.
The long road to the top
Bradley Wright-Phillips is a name many English football fans haven’t heard in a very long time. Last seen playing in England for Brentford in the 2012/13 season, the striker, once tipped for international stardom with England alongside his brother Shaun, was playing in League One.
Ever since breaking out at Manchester City in 2004, Wright-Phillips’ career had been a slow slide to the bottom of English football. Stints at Southampton and Plymouth Argyle went by without much fanfare, and although the striker helped Charlton Athletic gain promotion to the Championship in 2012 with 22 goals in 42 games for The Addicks in 2012, he was released by the club a year later after failing to keep up his goalscoring form in a higher division.
With no club to return to for pre-season, Wright-Phillips’ career looked to have reached an impasse, but then an interesting offer from an interesting destination came up.
The Atlantic exchange
The New York Red Bulls were on the search for strikers going into the second half of the MLS season. The New Jersey-based side at the time were one of the best teams in a league that boasted the likes of Premier League legends Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill, but the franchise needed more, and Wright-Phillips fitted the bill.
Like many players and fans in 2013, Wright-Phillips didn’t think the move to America was right at the time. He was 28, and the belief that MLS was a ‘Retirement League’ was still strong in the footballing world.
But after being invited to watch a Red Bulls game from the stands and seeing Henry and Cahill leave the pitch exhausted after a loss, Wright-Phillips knew there was more to this league than he originally thought, and after a successful trial with the club the striker officially joined the franchise on 24th July 2013, taking the number 99 shirt.
Joining a team on a new continent that plays in a unique league structure with away days that could see you travel as far as 3,000 miles is bound to unsettle even the most seasoned of players, but for Wright-Phillips, these new experiences played to his advantage.
He only featured nine times in his first year for the franchise, scoring two goals to help the Red Bulls to their first piece of silverware in the franchise’s history, the MLS Supporters Shield. But it was the following season that really proved Wright-Phillips had a place to call his own.
In the 2014 MLS season, Wright-Phillips scored 27 goals in 32 regular season appearances, a tie for the league record at the time, and in the Playoffs the striker scored another four as the Red Bulls made it all the way to the Eastern Conference final. The forward also scored a sensational goal against Bayern Munich in the MLS All-Star game that summer.
It was Wright-Phillips’ best season to date and still remains his most prolific year as a player, and the striker who once used to spend his evenings before games in England sitting up till 3am playing video games and eating junk food was now on his way on becoming a legend in a place far from home.
100 goals for the number 99
Since 2014, Wright-Phillips has remained one of the best strikers in MLS and is often regarded as one of the best imports the league has ever seen.
His lessons and experiences from playing alongside Henry improved his game in such a way that BWP is feared amongst defenders in the league.
His pace for a player in his 30s is still difficult to deal with, and his ability to drift into space unnoticed is key to why Wright-Phillips is as prolific as he is, and on July 25th of this year, Wright-Phillips bagged his 100th MLS goal for the New York Red Bulls in a 1-0 win against Wayne Rooney’s DC United side, the quickest time for any player in MLS to reach this milestone.
Wright-Phillips’ number 99 will be retired when he calls time at the Red Bulls, a fitting legacy to a legendary MLS career.