HARRISON, N.J. — It’s a vantage point Bradley Wright-Phillips hadn’t had since joining the New York Red Bulls.
For nearly two months, as he rehabbed from a groin injury, the striker watched home games from the players’ box on the fifth floor of Red Bull Arena, offering him a different perspective.
“I watch the games and I’ll come down at halftime and I see the boys maybe squabbling or thinking things are worse than they are,” Wright-Phillips said. “And when you when you see up on the fifth floor you get to see that it’s not so bad, this is what we might need.”
The 34-year-old had that perspective in mind when he stepped on the field for the first time since late April in a 23-minute shift off the bench in the Red Bulls’ 3-1 win over the Chicago Fire Friday night.
“When I’m on the pitch today, I’m not moving great, but I’m trying to see how I can help, positions to fall back into and just take things from when I was watching into the game. It’s just good to see it with a clear eye. For five-and-a-half years I’ve just been in games, full steam ahead all the time and you don’t really step back and look at a game for what it is.
“I think I’ll try and bring that when I play, try and bring more, communication and just trying to organize the team.”
Wright-Phillips influence was felt even before he stepped on the field. Red Bulls coach Chris Armas said there was an energy in the locker room before the game with the veteran being back at his locker.
“It’s great to have him back. It was a big lift in the locker room before the game, halftime he’s talking to the guys and the staff a little bit,” Armas said “It’s great to have him healthy. He’s one of the main leaders in this group so it’s great to see him healthy and back in the jersey.”
It was a successful return for BWP, who contributed to a stoppage-time insurance goal with a hockey assist, but what’s next? Wright-Phillips said he felt like he had just played in his first preseason game on Friday, a first step in regaining match fitness.
The Red Bulls have a double-game road week, playing in steamy Houston Wednesday night and on the turf in Atlanta Sunday.
“Now I see what I can do next,” Wright-Phillips said. “Right now, my mind is that whenever I’m needed. I’ll come on and try and do what I can.”
It takes a village
Wright-Phillips was the quickest player in league history to reach 100 regular season goals, the first to score 20 or more goals in three different seasons and the league’s first two-time Golden Boot Award winner.
Since he arrived midway through the 2013 season, he’s been one of the elite goal-scorers in MLS and the face of the franchise, especially in that department.
However, missing nine consecutive games meant someone else had to pick up the scoring load. Brian White is the most obvious like-for-like switch and the second-year forward has impressed with a team-high five goals, including the winner Friday against the Fire.
Armas has praised White often, but what has impressed him the most is how many players have scored this year — a franchise-best 16 different players have combined for the team’s 30 goals, the third highest total in the league through 17 games.
In comparison, 14 players scored at least one goal in the entire 2018 season, 11 in 2017 and 13 in 2016. Here is the complete breakdown:
- 2018 – 14
- 2017 – 11
- 2016 – 13
- 2015- 15
- 2014 – 9
- 2013 – 11
- 2012 – 13
- 2011 – 8
- 2010 – 14
- 2009 – 8
- 2008 – 11
- 2007 – 10
- 2006 – 12
- 2005 – 9
- 2004 – 11
- 2003 – 12
- 2002 – 10
- 2001 – 10
- 2000 – 12
- 1999 – 14
- 1998 – 12
- 1997 – 11
- 1996 – 12
Armas said Tim Parker rolled his ankle in the first half and the center back was replaced by rookie Sean Nealis at halftime. Armas listed Parker as “day-to-day.”
Nealis, the Massapequa, L.I. native who was drafted out of Hofstra, was solid again.
“Sean Nealis I thought stepped in in a big way,” Armas said. “We’ve thrown Sean Nealis in some big moments and it’s a lot for center backs on our team and in this league against the players like Chicago has.”