HANOVER, N.J. — Bradley Wright-Phillips isn’t just one of the greatest goalscorers in MLS regular season history for the New York Red Bulls, his prolificity extends to the Audi MLS Cup playoffs as well.
The 33-year-old, who earlier this season became the fastest player to score 100 regular season goals in league history and the first to net 20+ goals in three different seasons, has struck for nine postseason goals as well.
In fact, BWP has scored at least one playoff goal in each of the last five seasons.
With his team trailing 1-0 after a loss at MAPFRE Stadium last Sunday, Wright-Phillips’ importance in the second leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against Columbus Crew SC this Sunday (7:30 pm ET | FS1, FOX Deportes, TSN, TVAS) cannot be understated.
Tightly marked in the first leg, Wright-Phillips managed just two shots, putting one on frame. But that one shot, a glancing header toward the far post in stoppage time, looked like the all-important away goal if not for a spectacular diving save by newly-minted MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Zack Steffen.
“How can we create more looks for him, how can we get him more involved,” is the question Red Bulls coach Chris Armas posed after training on Tuesday. “You can see even with a couple of chances the last game he’s close every time and on the last one he’s right there.
“Brad’s in a really good way mentally and physically. We talk about Option A with him so we really have to be looking for him.”
No one has been bigger in terms of setting up goals for the Red Bulls than Kaku, the playmaker who commanded a club-record transfer fee in an extended offseason courtship to pry him from Argentina’s Huracan.
But Kaku hasn’t registered an assist since a 3-2 loss to Crew SC at Red Bull Arena on July 28. It was the fourth consecutive game he helped set up a goal, with the previous three scored by Wright-Phillips.
Of Kaku’s 14 assists, six were on BWP goals. Sean Davis (5) was the next most prolific playmaker for Wright-Phillips.
Armas dismisses any idea of a Kaku slump, pointing out the Red Bulls’ three best scoring chances in the opening leg — a Tim Parker header off the post, Daniel Royer forcing Steffen off his line on a ball played in behind the Crew SC defense and BWP’s late header — all came from Kaku’s service.
“He’s playing well, better than he has all year in my opinion. He’s so important for our team and he is a winner. … We love Kaku,” Armas said. “He’s incredible, on the field, off the field the way he’s gotten on with the guys. His mentality and winning edge, I’m sure everyone will get to see the highest level of it in Leg 2.”
Although Kaku’s assist-less streak continued, he did create four chances at Columbus, double his average production during the regular season, according to Opta.
“I felt like I had the passes I’ve made and the opportunities to get guys in the right spot, but it’s tough when they’re marking Brad as much as they are,” Kaku said in Spanish through a translator. “It makes it a little tougher, but we just need to circulate more and we’ll be able to find the spaces needed in order to score.”