New York Red Bulls hitman Bradley Wright-Phillips' record-breaking season: All down to his strike partner?

Bradley Wright-Phillips arrived in New York without much fanfare last July. The Englishman was coming off a season in which he played with two different teams (Charlton Athletic, Brentford) in two different leagues (England’s Championship, League One). Over the course of 36 games in 2012-13 he scored just six goals. You could almost forgive Red Bulls fans for lamenting the fact (check out the comments) that their team signed him instead of his more accomplished brother, Shaun Wright-Phillips.

After an uninspiring 408 minutes with the club in 2013 (he did score twice), Wright-Phillips came into the 2014 season battling with Péguy Luyindula for playing time, as evidenced by the fact he started just two of the Red Bulls' first six games. He wrestled the starting spot away on April 16 and has not relinquished control since, starting 18 games and scored 19 goals en route to a four-goal lead in the MLS Golden Boot race as we enter the last third of the season.

On Saturday night, Wright-Phillips became the first player in his club's history to hit 20 goals in one season, scoring two goals against the Montreal Impact to lead the Red Bulls to a 4-2 victory. Neither of these goals were “big chances” as defined by Opta, but that does not mean that Wright-Phillips has not seen his fair share of those types of chances this season.

A “big chance” is an instance in which a player is reasonably expected to score. Wright-Phillips has had 16 such chances so far this season (excluding penalty kicks), the most in the league. Excluding penalties, players in MLS have scored on these chances 48 percent of the time, and Wright-Phillips sits just above that percentage at 50 percent.

Most Big Chances (ex. Penalties) in MLS
Player Big Chances Conversion Rate
Wright-Phillips 16 50%
Keane 15 53%
Bruin 12 42%
Martins 11 55%

Big chances are created not just by quality of the pass from a teammate or luck. The player who is the beneficiary of the big chance often creates it himself. Take a look at his goal against Houston from back in April, and you can see that Wright-Phillips' own movement actually creates the big chance (despite some not-so-great defending from Jermaine Taylor).

The player who has helped Wright-Phillips create many of those big chances is Thierry Henry. No surprise, right? Henry has passed Wright-Phillips the ball on seven of those 16 occasions, and the Englishman has scored on six of those seven opportunities. One came against Chicago back in May:

Henry’s massive presence on the field alone is enough to help any striker get more space and opportunities. We saw this before when Luke Rodgers and Kenny Cooper had breakout seasons in New York, and now Wright-Phillips is benefitting from the same situation. Below are his conversion rates when he receives the ball from Henry and when he doesn’t. The results speak for themselves. 

BWP Shots assisted by
Player Goals Shots (ex. blocks) Conversion Rate
Henry 7 17 41%
Others 9 36

25%

The seven assists from Henry to Wright-Phillips are the most one player has assisted another in MLS this season.

So we can see that there is an “Henry effect” to Wright-Phillips’ scoring output, but should that take anything away from the Golden Boot leader? Even without Henry’s assists, the 29-year-old would still have 13 goals, good for third in the league, and that’s not including any other goals he might've scored with another playmaker next to him.

So yes, Wright-Phillips has benefitted from playing next to an all-time great. But that doesn’t mean we should downplay his incredible season -- or not consider him a MVP candidate.