HANOVER, N.J. – Bradley Wright-Phillips might not be available for the New York Red Bulls in the marquee meeting with Atlanta United Sunday (1 pm ET | ESPN - Full TV & Streaming info) at Red Bull Arena. But the Red Bulls are convinced that they have enough options at their disposal, in addition to the element of surprise, when they face the league’s top team.
And while the Red Bulls will look to make up some ground in the race for the Supporters' Shield without their star forward, they don’t exactly have many options after their talisman to slot in up top. If the Red Bulls are to make up ground in the Supporters' Shield race – Atlanta currently sit four points ahead of New York atop the league – then they will likely need someone to step up and find the back of the net in place of Wright-Phillips.
That role could well fall to Derrick Etienne Jr. (four goals in 26 appearances) or rookie Brian White (one goal since being signed in August). Another option up top is Anatole Abang, who returned from a loan in Romania a few weeks ago, but has yet to feature with the first team.
“It’s unfortunate that in this game of this magnitude that he’ll have to miss that,” Red Bulls coach Chris Armas said on Tuesday. “It hurts for us and for Brad, because he lives for those games.”
“We see whether it is a derby match, or big games, how he shows up and what he means to our team in every way so we’ll honor him on the day and push for him too. But look we like our roster. We have said it. We think Derrick is dangerous, we have Brian White, we have Abang, we have plenty of guys that can fill in, that we have a lot of confidence in.”
Etienne scored a second-half stoppage time goal from a tight angle against TFC. The Haitian international has played with confidence this year, daring on the dribble and willing to stretch things out wide with his speed.
If he can begin finishing consistently, then Etienne can truly round out his game. Sunday would be an ideal time from the Red Bulls perspective for the 21-year old to continue finding the back of the net.
“Yeah, I mean Brad’s a great final play guy and we are definitely going to miss him out there. Lucky for us, we have a lot of guys that have scored a lot of goals this year, so we will look to other guys to step up in big moments,” defender Aaron Long said. “Younger guys — Derrick just had a great goal last game so hopefully he’s going to be confident going into the game — but yeah, younger guys are going to have to step up and make some plays.”
In their previous meeting this year in Atlanta in May, the Red Bulls beat Atlanta on the road, 3-1, without captain and goalkeeper Luis Robles, who was sidelined with an injury. They go into Sunday’s match down Wright-Phillips, but with a bit of uncertainty working towards their advantage.
Atlanta likely won’t know exactly what Armas has in mind in terms of replacing Wright-Phillips or what the formation will end up looking like until the starting XI is announced before the game.
“We’ll always try to do play to our advantage and make sure that we go out there and put the best 11 [players] on the field that day,” Armas said. “But not having Bradley Wright-Phillips in our team, it is not usually a good thing, so listen we feel for us, but more so for Brad because of, in big games, what he means to this team, pure football-wise and then just his leadership as well.”