HARRISON, N.J. — They are the faces of a golden era for an MLS original that transformed from MetroStars to New York Red Bulls. But after a disappointing 2019 season ended with a first-round playoff ouster by the Philadelphia Union, the futures of veterans Luis Robles and Bradley Wright-Phillips are murky.
Robles, 35, is a captain and former MLS Goalkeeper of the Year who needs a contract option picked up to return for his ninth season with the club. Wright-Phillips, 34, is a two-time Golden Boot winner out of contract.
They both played a massive role in three Supporters’ Shield campaigns and made the playoffs in each of the seven years they were teammates. The club, during that time, also reached a U.S. Open Cup final and the semifinals of the Concacaf Champions League.
Neither appeared ready to admit it was an end of an era while giving end-of-season interviews, but neither appeared certain they’d be back for the start of preseason in January, either.
“I think my thoughts are pretty lucid in the sense that I understand it could go either way, but it’s hard not to dwell on it because that is my reality,” Robles said. “I’m hoping that this organization sees I still have a lot to contribute, not only as a player, but as a person. And it’s my dream to finish out my days here as a player in the New York Red Bulls. But I also understand this is a business and sometimes those decisions don’t go for you. I don’t know what my future holds. I don’t know what they’re thinking, and I guess that’s the part that can drive me crazy.”
A year ago, following an Eastern Conference final loss to Atlanta United, Robles joked about the club’s trend of trading away captains. It happened with midfielders Dax McCarty and Sacha Kljestan in consecutive years.
But Robles, who has 238 regular-season career starts for the Red Bulls after signing on midway through 2012, was less certain about his future after this year’s playoff exit.
“I still just personally feel like there’s a lot that I can contribute as a player, whether it’s here or somewhere else,” said Robles, who made $490,000 in 2019 based on salaries released by the MLS Players Association. “But for me, my ambition is always to help this organization be the best that they can be and part of that is winning MLS Cup, winning trophies, but also just in the community, being a beacon of light, of hope in the community.”
Wright-Phillips scored in double figures in each of his first five full MLS seasons. He became the fastest player to record 100 league goals and the first to score 20 or more goals in three different seasons when he struck for 20 in 2018. But he endured a nightmarish 2019 in which he was limited to just nine starts. He had two goals and four assists while being hampered with a groin injury that just never went away.
Like Robles, Wright-Phillips was uncertain about his future.
“We haven’t had our end-of-season meetings yet. You never know, I could get fired. You don’t know,” said Wright-Phillips, who earned $1.3 million in 2019. “That’s sport, but I’m not really sure. It’s up in the air. When we have our end-of-season meetings, I’ll go from there.”
And like Robles, Wright-Phillips believes he has more to give. He bristled at the idea of hanging up his cleats.
“It’s just an injury. I keep hearing this retirement talk,” Wright-Phillips said. “I’ve never had thoughts to leave the game. I just had a groin injury and it didn’t go away. For me, it’s about getting fit over the offseason and coming back stronger.”
Wright-Phillips said he’s also not thought about playing for another team. His focus is on getting healthy and going from there.
“I’m still just trying to get over my injury, it’s been annoying,” Wright-Phillips said. “I honestly haven’t thought about, ‘Do I want to leave?’ or ‘Do they want to keep me?’ I just want to get fit. Because if I’m not fit, then it doesn’t matter does it? It would be the same production I had this year.”