HANOVER, N.J. — There are many intricacies to the position, especially when playing as the lone striker for the New York Red Bulls.
But a forward’s worth is generally determined by the goals they score. It’s the main reason why Bradley Wright-Phillips has earned legendary status, in New York and throughout Major League Soccer.
He’s the fastest player to reach 100 career regular season goals, a two-time MLS Golden Boot winner and the only player in league history to score 20-plus goals in three different seasons.
And he’s also without a goal in the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs.
Yes, it’s a sample size of two games, a mere 180 minutes, but tack on the final two games of the regular season and it’s four games since Wright-Phillips last found the back of the net.
It may be a stretch to call it a drought at this point, but it's not insignificant for a player who had 20 regular-season goals and has had at least one tally in five consecutive years in the playoffs.
“We’re not worried about it,” midfielder Kaku said through a translator after training Friday. “Yeah, he’s had a great season, he’s had a lot of goals for us as well. Just because he hasn’t scored for a while doesn’t mean he’s not getting those chances and opportunities. He’s getting them. Hopefully he’ll get to score on Sunday or even if we get to go to the finals, he scores there because that will be a big help for all of us.”
Indeed, Red Bulls coach Chris Armas points at a golden chance in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against Columbus Crew SC — a header toward the far post that Allstate MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Zack Steffen somehow parried away. And there was play he made on the first of two Danny Royer goals in the second leg, spinning away from Artur before firing a low pass to the feet of Alex Muyl.
It was the pass that started a sequence that saw the ball go from Muyl to Tyler Adams and onto the right foot of Royer, who finished first time.
He didn’t technically get an assist on the play, but Wright-Phillips’ influence was felt.
In the last four games BWP hasn’t scored, the Red Bulls are 3-1-0.
“Brad’s so important when he scoring goals for us and he does. Anytime you need a goal, he's always that guy it seems that bails you out or gets you the goal,” Armas said. “If you're playing against the New York Red Bulls, now you're gonna really say 'Let's take it away from Bradley Wright-Phillips,' like Columbus tried to do and they made it really hard for him and they said 'All right try to beat us with something else,' which we did”
But his fingerprints were all over the 3-1 win in Atlanta in May, setting up a Royer equalizing penalty kick before striking for a second-half brace.
“Whether it's how he presses, his presence up top, his holdup play underneath where he can create and then of course be the Option A goalscorer, he does so much more than just goals in games,” Armas said. “Of course that's the most obvious and we’ll need him to score of course, but he does take pressure off of other guys and then they find space.”