When Bradley Wright-Phillips' name is typed into a search bar on the World Wide Web, through its infinite catalog and omniscient powers, it spits out a peculiar search suggestion:
What happened to Bradley Wright-Phillips?
One injury-plagued year after perhaps the greatest five-season run a striker has ever had in Major League Soccer history is all it took to swing the algorithms. They care not for legendary status, past performance, nor much else. Cold world, long winter.
No wonder Wright-Phillips stopped reading much that featured his name this offseason. He grew frustrated. He grew flat-out angry. But he was defiant. He didn’t care about the noise, he knew himself. After four goals in five games at the MLS is Back Tournament with LAFC, he feels reinvigorated. He feels vindicated. And this is just the start.
“I never doubted myself. It was just frustrating, people lost faith in me," Wright-Phillips told MLSsoccer.com last week. "The year before I was injured, I’m not sure, but I had like 24 goals in all competitions, 11 assists."
He was just about right. He had 24 goals and 12 assists in 2018, reinforcing his importance to the New York Red Bulls.
“I don’t get people," the 35-year-old forward continued. "You think all of a sudden a few months later I can’t play anymore? It’s just stupid. It’s frustrating. I never doubted myself, I couldn’t wait to get fit so people could just shut up.”
Wright-Phillips departed RBNY this winter after six-and-a-half years at the club, with 108 goals, 28 assists, three Supporters’ Shields and two Golden Boots in tow. To find a bad word said about his character from those around the club is borderline impossible, and the fans also adored him.
He was the last vestige of the Thierry Henry-era and carried the club when the French legend retired. Red Bull Arena even had a big counter in the stands for his goal tally, regularly changing to reflect his latest strike.
Wright-Phillips said conversations about potentially staying with the Red Bulls only happened at the beginning of the 2019 season. He said talks didn’t continue as the season went on, before the club offered him a non-playing role at the club.
“It was like they wanted to retire me, offering me a (non-playing) job around the club," BWP said.
The Red Bulls confirmed they made an offer for whenever his playing days end.
“Now when I think back to what I’ve done at the club, what I thought I meant to the club, I didn’t like the way I left,” Wright-Phillips said. “It wasn’t great. I get it, it’s football. You don’t stay somewhere forever, but I just think I could have been treated a little better or sorted out a little earlier. It didn’t go like that. If I was to be honest, yeah, I was a little hurt.”
Despite his goalscoring track record and off-field influence, Wright-Phillips sat without a club for months. Concerns over his injury-plagued 2019 season and age (he turned 35 in March) both lingered. He didn’t officially sign with LAFC until February, long after all 26 clubs went into preseason.
“I was mad at everybody,” Wright-Phillips said. “I was mad at the league, I was mad at the Red Bulls. I’m not even saying they did anything wrong, I was just mad. It drove me. Like, watch. Watch what happens when I finally get a club, watch what happens when I’m fit. They’re gonna see.
“There was interest from some clubs, not as much as people would think. I got some calls, it was kind of like they only called to do me a favor,” he added. “It wasn’t like ‘I have plans for you,' unlike when I spoke to John (Thorrington) and Bob (Bradley). They had already thought of me at their club, in their team. The others were like, ‘Well, if you come for this we’d take you.’”
“When you look at his scoring record and the types of goals he scored, we always thought, man, that guy would score a ton of goals in our team,” Thorrington said. “Our conversations started with, well, what are your goals? What do you want in the next few years in your career and we’ll see if we’re the right fit.”
After just five games, it looks like the right fit. Wright-Phillips thrived at MLS is Back, playing center forward with young Uruguayan wingers Rossi and Brian Rodriguez either side of him. The pyrotechnic attack still delivered fireworks even without Vela. It was the moment Wright-Phillips has longed waited for.
“People mention my age – shut up,” Wright-Phillips said. “I don’t know what you think is happening. I won’t be scoring four in five all season, but I think you should know what I can do. I’m not Carlos Vela, but people should know what I’m capable of. I just don’t understand where that got lost when I was injured. It’s just stupid.”
A few goals in Orlando isn’t the endgame for BWP. He desperately wants to win MLS Cup, the one honor that's eluded him during his stateside stay. His importance to LAFC has only grown since Orlando, with forward Adama Diomande departing the club via mutual agreement.
“What’s important to recognize is he’s still working his way to full fitness,” Thorrington said. “There’s still a lot more to come from him.”
“He’s right,” Wright-Phillips added. “My all-around game, I’m not happy with. My match fitness, I’m not happy with. But it’s a good start.”
As long as he's feeling young, who knows how long Wright-Phillips' career will go. He isn't thinking about the end and he's not thinking about his legacy.
BWP climbed to seventh on the league's all-time scoring chart while in Orlando, with 111 goals in 198 appearances. His pace has been nothing short of special, as five of the six players ahead of him have logged at least 340 appearances. All six have scored more penalties than the Englishman, who's always deferred PK duties when there's someone better in the squad.
Wright-Phillips sits three goals behind LAFC assistant coach Ante Razov for sixth place, but 50 strikes behind goal king Chris Wondolowski.
“That’s a lot of games. I don’t want to jinx my legs, you know?" Wright-Phillips said. "Until I’m out there embarrassing myself, I’m not going to stop. I won’t lie to you, I don’t have my eye on it, it’s too far."