Once a trialist, Bradley Wright-Phillips never imagined he'd be this great

It hasn’t been too bad of a career for someone who just wanted to check out MLS and perhaps play alongside Thierry Henry.

When Bradley Wright-Phillips came to the New York Red Bulls on trial in the summer of 2013, he was a relative unknown to most in and around MLS. Here he was, a journeyman player in England, fresh off a spell in League One (third division), the son of famed Arsenal legend Ian Wright and the brother of an English international (Shaun Wright-Phillips) who at the time was on the books of English Premier League side Queens Park Rangers.

Bradley Wright-Phillips would impress on his trial, but the start to his MLS career did little to create enthusiasm – just one goal in his first seven regular season appearances to close out the 2013 season. Wright-Phillips admits that he came over to MLS to get a peek at the league and for the chance to play alongside the mercurial Henry. His expectations weren’t terribly high.

Now he is sitting on a league-leading 20 goals and is an MVP candidate. For a player who was uncertain about wanting to play in MLS, his rise to become one of the best forwards in the history of the league wasn’t something he envisioned.

“I never think that far ahead, I didn’t think I’d break some of the records I did, if we’re being honest,” Wright-Phillips said on Thursday following training. “I never thought that far ahead. I thought, playing with Thierry, I’d get chances to score. That’s as far as it went.”

A 2014 season where he tied the league’s all-time single season goal scoring mark with 27 goals was followed by 17 goals the next season – after Henry had retired. This year, his brace on Saturday at Toronto FC makes him the first player in MLS history with two seasons of at least 20 goals.

When he scored goal No. 20 on Sunday, Wright-Phillips had no idea that he once again put his name in the record book. It wasn’t until this week, when he read a press clipping, that he knew about the achievement. He readily admits that he would rather win an MLS Cup – he already has two Supporters Shield titles in his time in New York – than be the league’s leading scorer.

“A few more rings – I’d take five goals and the team wins an MLS Cup and a ring; I think my teammates and the coaching staff would like that,” Wright-Phillips said.

Head coach Jesse Marsch has called him “the most humble star” he has ever played with or coached, and Marsch is quick to point out that in a league with big names, he thinks his striker is, in fact, a star. But what’s impressive about the Red Bulls No. 99 is what he does when he isn’t scoring.

It wasn’t until the eighth game of the season and in his seventh start that he scored his first goal of 2016. But though he started this season in a slump, his teammates, as well as Marsch, continued to believe in Wright-Phillips.

At that time, Marsch was pointing out that his striker was doing all the right things, making the right runs and putting in all the effort to put his name on the boxscore. The ball simply wasn’t going in. But his work rate remained high, a calling card of this goal scorer’s time in MLS.

“I’ve always wanted to be a player that pulls my weight,” Wright-Phillips said. "I hate being a player known just for goals, there’s something I don’t like about it.

“I want to be known for more than that. I want to get assists, I want to work harder. I’m not always going to score goals, when you’re not scoring, what do you do for the team? That’s what I try to think about.”

But the goals, most in franchise history, will continue to be what writes the headlines. His 65 goals, in four seasons, put him ahead of club legends such Juan Pablo Angel and Henry, the player that led him to trial here.

“Listen, this is not taking anything away from Thierry, and obviously Thierry’s the biggest name to ever play here, and is one of the best players,'' Marsch said, "but I think Brad is emerging himself as the best Red Bull player, the best New York MetroStars player, or whatever you’d want to call it. He’s the best player to ever play here.

"I think he came here to play here with Thierry, and he’s now the new Thierry – or he’s re-written the books to be the new Thierry,” Marsch said. “We’re really lucky to have him.”