HANOVER, N.J. — Bradley Wright-Phillips has a love-hate relationship with D.C. United.
The New York Red Bulls forward has genuine disdain for the club’s oldest rivals, but there’s also love and respect for fellow English forward Wayne Rooney.
“He’s always been one of my favorite players,” Wright-Phillips said. “It’s tough that he plays for the enemy.”
Wright-Phillips first competed against Rooney as academy players — Wright-Phillips with Manchester City and Rooney with Everton. The opportunities to play against each since have been few and far between. And with Rooney’s announcement he’s leaving D.C. United in January to become a player-coach at Derby County, those chances are becoming fleeting.
The first of two regular season meetings is tonight at Audi Field. It’s a venue where Wright-Phillips has had success, including what he said is his favorite Atlantic Cup moment.
“Probably hundred goals,” Wright-Phillips said, referring to the moment last July when he became the fastest player in MLS history to score 100 career league goals.
Although he’ll have a smaller sample size than Wright-Phillips, Rooney’s move to MLS has been hugely successful. With 23 goals and 14 assists in 44 league appearances, he’s quieted critics who wondered if he had enough left in his legs at 32 years of age.
“If you’re a football fan, and you follow Wayne Rooney, it’s just stupid to even question it,” Wright-Phillips said. “Above all his ability everyone knows he’s a world-class player and world-class talent, but if you watch him you know he fights. He’s not just all technique and scoring goals. He fights for his team. He’s got captain qualities.”
Wright-Phillips, 34, has been limited to just six starts in 16 appearances because of a groin injury that sidelined him for two months. And when he returned, he was on the bench behind the in-form Brian White.
But White suffered a sprained ankle in a 1-1 draw against the New England Revolution Saturday and is listed as questionable for tonight’s match. It’s likely Wright-Phillips gets the nod up front, giving him at least one more chance to match wits with Rooney.
“Just a respect really. Wayne played with my brother a lot of times for England, so I kind of knew him a little bit before that,” Wright-Phillips said. “We’re not best friends, but when we see each other it’s love I think.”