It's the end of the month, which means it's time to
get paid pay rent vote for stuff!
In the case of MLS Player of the Month, vote now! The polls close at 11:59 pm on April 1 (that's a minute before Thursday, April 2). Vote for Bradley Wright-Phillips!
In case you need reminding, BWP is up for Player of the Month because he had a a rather excellent March. The New York Red Bulls played three games, won twice and drew once, and have bounced up to the top of the Eastern Conference. BWP started all three matches.
Further, he has scored twice and assisted on two goals: RBNY has five total.
BWP has been asked to play a slightly different role in this year's system. In 2014, the Red Bulls needed a man up top to run the channels and stake out positions close to goal to receive and finish passes. BWP finished a season's worth of chances more often than any MetroStar or Red Bull who preceded him, effectively forcing a change in the team's formation along the way. By the end of the year, RBNY had stopped needing a guy to stay high on the field because Thierry Henry kept dropping deep; instead, the team organised itself around feeding the man in the box, and Henry was one of several players required to stay deep and find the league's best finisher in front of goal.
In 2015, a new coach - Jesse Marsch - has started the year by asking BWP to adjust his tactical role. He's still technically the lone forward in a 4-2-3-1: the target for a bustling midfield. But now he will pick the ball up in deeper positions and play teammates through on goal almost more often than he stalks the back line looking for the chance to run on to a pass and fire in a shot.
In RBNY's opening game of the season, we saw more of this new BWP - the creator - than the previous season's finisher. And it almost paid off: if Felipe Martins hadn't taken an awful first touch, he'd have been expected to finish the chance he was provided by Wright-Phillips.
As it was, though he registered no shots on goal, BWP did make a contribution to RBNY's goal in the 1-1 draw with Sporting Kansas City. Watch the tape:
That is a special goal by Lloyd Sam. But notice BWP's run, pulling Ike Opara toward him. It's a smart run because it stretches the defense: Matt Besler is covering Sam, but as the RBNY wide-man cuts inside, BWP is taking a marker out right, while Mike Grella's run ensures the left flank also needs to be covered. Sam still has to beat a defender one-on-one to create space for his shot, and he needs to get that shot off quickly because KC spots his intention and player rush in to close him down.
But Sam got just enough of the space he needed to do something extraordinary in part because BWP still does the ordinary things well: smart running off the ball to support his teammates.
The forward's contribution to RBNY's 2-0 win over D.C. United was more obvious. His goal highlighted his ability to improvise under pressure, control the ball, and retain unerring focus on putting a shot on target (in 2014, BWP was an extremely disciplined striker - he rarely took a shot from a position that wasn't a close and obvious scoring opportunity).
His assist, to Lloyd Sam, was what can happen if the team lets someone other than Felipe get on the end of a well-weighted pass into the box.
BWP won MLS's Player of the Week for that performance.
He made a very similar contribution to RBNY's win over Columbus in Week 4. He scored a penalty because the Crew's defense got shredded by the exact same passing and movement BWP conjured to play Sam in for his goal against DC - except Columbus preferred to hack Sam down and see if RBNY had the nerve to convert from the penalty spot.
BWP had the nerve.
Next, he showed what Jesse Marsch has been hoping for ever since he started talking about "uptempo" tactics: pressing for the ball high up the field, winning possession from a befuddled defender and playing Mike Grella into space for a chance to score. Mike Grella, it would seem, is also considerably more composed when given a chance to put a shot on target than Felipe.
Vote for Grella in MLS's Goal of the Week competition, if you have a moment.
Bradley Wright-Phillips has had a spectacular month. The Red Bulls are undefeated and lead the Eastern Conference. BWP leads the team in goals (joint-leading scorer with Sam) and assists (as many as the rest of the team combined).
Vote BWP: MLS's best player in March 2015.