The New York Red Bulls’ protracted early-season stumble continued on Saturday night, when the club lost 2-0 at home to Sporting Kansas City to drop to 1-4-0 in 2016.
There’s no shortage of reasons why the Supporters’ Shield holders have gotten off to a rough start this year. The defense, which was already looking at a tough adjustment following the January departure of Matt Miazga to Chelsea, has been hit hard by a rash of injuries, captain Dax McCarty hasn’t really looked like himself in the midfield and Designated Player attacker Gonzalo Veron is dealing with some health problems of his own, too.
While those issues are all pressing, perhaps none are as arresting as the struggles of star striker Bradley Wright-Phillips. The Englishman has scored more MLS goals than anyone since the start of 2014, but he’s yet to find the back of the net this season, starting the year with a five-game scoreless skid.
Things came to a frustrating head for Wright-Phillips on Saturday, when he failed to score despite firing off 10 shots, the highest single-game total in MLS this season.
As has been the case all year, he was denied against Sporting by a combination of good goalkeeping, solid defending and some lackluster finishing.
Wright-Phillips’ most noteworthy moment on Saturday came in the 64th minute. He stepped up to take a penalty after a Sporting defender was whistled for a handball in the box, but couldn’t take advantage, with SKC goalkeeper Tim Melia saving his spot kick to keep New York off the board.
It was a big blow for the Red Bulls and Wright-Phillips, who also had a fine header denied by Melia in the first-half and redirected a close-range chance right at the Sporting backstop later in the second.
Unsurprisingly, much of the postgame media chatter revolved around Wright-Phillips. Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch stood by his struggling striker in his press conference, telling reporters that his “belief in him hasn’t – doesn’t change based on missing a penalty or missing some chances.”
Marsch is right to support Wright-Phillips, and not just because the Red Bulls don’t have much proven depth behind him at striker. He’s not finishing right now, but he’s getting himself into the right spots and looking consistently dangerous, currently sitting in second in the league with 11 shots on goal and tied for third in MLS with 23 total shots.
He’s not exactly the first striker to go through a cold spell, either. Playing forward is all about navigating peaks and valleys – even for the best in the league. Every one of MLS’s top-10 scorers last year had a streak of at least three-straight starts without a goal, with Wright-Phillips and Orlando City’s Cyle Larin both going on five-game scoreless runs.
That skid didn’t affect Wright-Phillips too much in 2015, when he finished the season tied for fifth in the league with 17 goals. I don’t think it’ll affect him much this year, either. Wright-Phillips is 31, and a known commodity in this league. He’s been through rough patches before, and he’s made it out just fine. He might not take too many more PKs, but he’ll get himself back on track, maybe even as early as Wednesday night at San Jose.