CHESTER, Pa. – Although Jay Simpson doesn’t know Bradley Wright-Phillips personally, the new Philadelphia Union striker has played against him in the past and has some mutual friends with the Red Bulls star.
So when Simpson was deciding whether to join MLS, the Englishman certainly looked to Wright-Phillips’ journey as one source of inspiration.
“Since he’s come over, he’s been excellent,” Simpson told MLSsoccer.com. “He’s been the top scorer in the league. He’s obviously enjoying his time over here, so you look at that and you think, ‘Why not give it a try yourself?’”
The comparisons between Simpson and Wright-Phillips are natural since both played England’s in lower divisions. Simpson spent the last three seasons with League 2’s Leyton Orient, and Wright-Phillips played in all four tiers of the English league pyramid before joining the Red Bulls in 2013.
And while it would be unfair to expect Simpson to be as prolific as the two-time MLS Golden Boot winner Wright-Phillips, the new Union striker believes he can bring similar characteristics to his new league.
“I know [Wright-Phillips] is deadly around the box, a great finisher, and I hope to try to emulate that,” Simpson said. “Around the box, I just try to stay on the move – make clever runs behind the defenders and just try to anticipate where the ball might land.”
Simpson is likely to get a lot of scoring chances during his debut MLS season. He’s been the Union’s first-choice striker for most of the preseason in head coach Jim Curtin’s 4-2-3-1 formation and is battling last year’s starter, C.J. Sapong, for the starting role.
Both figure to see plenty of action throughout the season.
“They’re two really good strikers,” Curtin said. “I think it’s pretty even. They both scored good goals in the preseason. They both bring a different way of holding the ball up. …. I will have to make a hard decision who the starter is for this game but I see goals in both of them this year.
“We’re gonna have to do it as a team by committee. Zlatan [Ibrahimovic]’s not walking through the door.”
Simpson says he has spent the preseason focused on making an effective transition and getting to know his teammates, rather than putting up immediate numbers.
And he knows there may be growing pains while he adjusts to a different style of play and the brutal, cross-continental MLS travel. He’ll get his first taste of that on a 3,000-mile trip to Vancouver as the Union face the Whitecaps on Sunday (9:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
“It’s something I’m looking forward to and can embrace,” Simpson said. “I get to travel around and see different places. Maybe in a lifetime I would have never gone to Vancouver. What better way to see it than to play soccer there?”