HANOVER, N.J. — He hasn’t found the fountain of youth, but New York Red Bulls forward Bradley Wright-Phillips feels like he’s turned back the clock a bit on his return to full training.
“It’s been tough not being able to train, but now I’m just like a kid at the first day of school,” Wright-Phillips said on Monday. “It’s like being back in preseason for the first day.”
The 34-year-old has missed nine league games over the course of nearly two full months dealing with a nagging groin injury. He was somewhat limited in a few earlier training sessions, but Monday was the first day Wright-Phillips had the option to go full bore and he attacked it like it was a match day.
“This is one of the best days I’ve felt during training,” he said. “I joined in a few [sessions] a week ago and I wasn’t moving as good. But today I felt a lot sharper.”
Since being sidelined for half a season earlier in his career, this is the longest stretch Wright-Phillips has been injured since joining the Red Bulls. He said there was never a concern that he’d miss the entire season, but it was just a case of pain management and a level of discomfort that comes with what he said was “tendinitis on the pubic bone.”
“Earlier in the season I was playing and I was trying to get through it, but something wasn’t right,” he said. “I couldn’t really sprint too much, I wasn’t striking the ball great. After a while, I couldn’t do no more.”
Wright-Phillips, who has just one goal in six appearances a year after becoming the first player in league history to score 20 or more goals in three different seasons, said he’s not 100 percent yet because getting match fit is the next challenge.
“I feel like a kid just training with the first team, I’m doing everything to try and impress Chris [Armas],” Wright-Phillips said. “But yeah, ultimately it’s his decision.”
Armas, who praised Wright-Phillips work ethic at training, said the two-time Golden Boot award winner is “very close” to his first game action since April 20.
“It will just be a matter of how we want to utilize him,” he said. “He’ll make a case right away for himself because when he’s out there, he just brings the work ethic, the quality, the experience. He’s a leader on our team. And he’s looking more like himself. The best thing is he’s not in pain every day.”
In Wright-Phillips’ absence, Brian White and Tom Barlow emerged as quality goal-scoring threats. White has four goals and two assists in nine appearances, including six of seven starts since BWP’s injury. And Barlow, who was signed from Red Bulls II on May 8, has one goal in four appearances, two from the start, netting the winner off the bench against Atlanta United on May 19.
Wright-Phillips said he thought about just trying to play through the pain, but White and Barlow’s performances, which he described as “unbelievable,” convinced him to take his time and get the proper treatment.
“I feel like earlier in the season, there was a time where I was playing and I thought I need to sit out and I felt like I was letting the team down,” Wright-Phillips said. “And when I did decide that I couldn’t play on and seeing those two step up, it filled me with confidence.”
Armas said Wright-Phillips’ return doesn’t automatically mean White and Barlow head to the bench. He’s flirted with using two strikers at times and hinted that could be a distinct possibility.
“These are good scenarios for us that we have options up the field,” Armas said.