BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Goals are the currency in which strikers conduct their business, and two of MLS’ finest exponents ensured that the Chicago Fire and the New York Red Bulls shared the spoils in a tough encounter at Toyota Park Saturday.
In Nemanja Nikolic and Bradley Wright-Phillips, the playoff-chasing sides have two frontrunners with their eyes on the MLS Golden Boot award. More importantly, their success in front of goal will go a long way to deciding where Chicago and New York wind up in the hunt for the postseason.
Bradley opened the scoring in the eighth minute to take his tally for the season to 15 goals, joining Robbie Keane as the only players in MLS history to reach that figure in four consecutive seasons. In doing so, he cracked a three-game stretch without a goal in which the Red Bulls took just two points from a possible nine.
For the Fire, Nikolic’s first goal since July 1 saw him end a nine-game slump without a goal and propel him to 17 goals, second in the Golden Boot race behind leader David Villa (19 goals).
Saturday’s equalizer naturally came as a relief to Nikolic himself, but his teammates also showed their delight that the team’s talisman is back among the goals after such a tough recent run.
“His goal meant a lot for the team, that one point, conversion of the hard work we had during the game, and obviously it’s good for him that he keeps scoring the goals,” Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic said. “All that counts is for the team to win, to get points, but it’s great and I’m personally happy for him because he worked hard so far and he had patience and it came to him.”
Said Nikolic: "It feels really good, of course, as all the time when strikers score the goal. It was not my focus in a couple of leagues before, because I think that the team is the most important and our results are the most important.”
Sacha Kljestan, who turned 32 on Saturday, provided the assist to Wright-Phillips’ opener and underlined what a huge success the English striker has been in MLS.
“It’s pretty obvious when you look and you see that the goalscorers are always the highest-paid guys,” Kljestan said when asked what “BWP” means to the Red Bulls. “The hardest thing to do in soccer is score goals and to do well on a consistent basis, and Bradley’s been one of the best in MLS history at that.
“He certainly has earned his paycheck. He always talks about a goal every two games on average – it’s a great season for him, and so far he’s doing that. We can’t ask any more of Brad, he’s been amazing for his four-plus years at this club.”
Wright-Phillips said he takes significant personal satisfaction from the steady nature of his scoring output.
“It’s nice, it shows consistency, which is something I have worked on,” he said. “When I was younger I wasn’t too consistent, I don’t think people knew what they would get from me. And to accomplish that is nice, I’m showing consistency and it a pleasure to be among that company.”