The New York Red Bulls are finally set to welcome back a club icon, one of the greatest strikers in MLS history, after his extended injury layoff – and it says a great deal about the club that they may not be able to offer him a place in their starting lineup.
Bradley Wright-Phillips looks ready to return to RBNY’s gameday roster for the first time since April 20 when they host the Chicago Fire Friday night (8 pm ET | UniMás, Twitter in US, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada), providing head coach Chris Armas and his staff with a welcome selection quandary at striker.
“He's trained now regularly, so I think he's very close,” Armas told reporters of Wright-Phillips this week. “It'll just be a matter of how we want to utilize him and what type of minutes ... he'll make a case right away for himself, because when he's out there he just brings – the work ethic, but the quality, the experience. He’s a leader on our team and he’s looking more like himself. The best thing is that he’s not in pain every day.”
BWP has been hampered by a groin problem for most of the season, and after trying to play through it in the spring, finally shut himself down to nurse what turned out to be tendonitis on his pubic bone. In his absence, the young duo of Brian White and Tom Barlow stepped up in surprisingly effective fashion, together chipping in five goals and two assists to keep the Red Bulls competitive.
“They’ve been unbelievable,” Wright-Phillips said of his junior colleagues this week. “What’s impressed me is that each game they’ve improved, they’ve gotten better. Brian’s all-around play since he stepped in has been very good. Barlow’s impact this season when he’s come on has been good. These guys are now, they’re not just playing off of adrenaline and happy to be in the first team, they’ve actually got a role in the team where they’re needed. And it’s amazing to see.
“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. And when I did decide that I couldn’t play on, and seeing those two step up, it filled me with comfort. I would trust them through a whole season.”
RBNY typically field a lone striker, yet Armas hinted that he might try other tactical arrangements to make the most of his choices up top.
“We’ve always flirted with two strikers, we have played with Brad underneath. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, necessarily,” he said. “So we’ll think about how to use it the right way. Or maybe it’s game to game. So we’ll have something to think about.”
While stating that “Brad has earned the benefit of the doubt around here, for sure,” Armas also suggested that his faith in the younger duo – both of whom cut their teeth in USL Championship play with RBNY’s second team – give him the choice to take a conservative approach with BWP if need be.
“You look at the game, and you put the team out there that gives you the best chance,” said Armas.
“Look, it’ll be decisions to make, and Brian White and Tom Barlow, they’ve done a lot with their minutes. These are good scenarios for us, that we have options up the field.”