It has not gone unnoticed that Bradley Wright-Phillips is not scoring at the rate he was last year. He has played five games since he last found the net, which is tied for the longest he's gone without a goal since making his debut for the New York Red Bulls. BWP started his RBNY career with a five-game scoreless streak before injury forced him out of the lineup for a couple of games. He returned to score twice in four games to close out the 2013 season.
In 2014, he scored in the opening match of the year, against Vancouver. RBNY played another six games before Wright-Phillips found the net again (the hat-trick against Houston that flicked the switch on the greatest single-season goal-scoring spree this club has ever seen). But BWP only played in five of those six games.
So his current barren spell is as long as he's ever gone without a goal for the Red Bulls: five games (that he actually played in). And both those prior barren streaks hardly counted as a slump: no one expected him to be a goal-a-game striker when he arrived, and certainly not after he produced three goals in his first 15 appearances. Then we saw him score 30 goals in his next 31 games and, not surprisingly, we'd like to see him do something similar this year. Five goals in his first nine appearances of 2015 was a promising start, but five goals in 14 appearances is some distance from the heights he's touched in recent memory.
It's still not a bad record: he has as many league goals for the season to date as Jozy Altidore, Blas Perez and Benny Feilhaber. He is, in point of fact, RBNY's leading goalscorer in MLS for the season (and joint top-scorer overall - Lloyd Sam also has five goals in all competitions). But his misses seem to outnumber his hits recently, which is one explanation for his current drought.
The other explanation is, of course, that BWP simply isn't in the same role as he was in 2014. Last year, he was asked to be a pure striker: chase passes behind the back line and get shots on target from close range. He still plays that game occasionally this season, but he is now just as likely to be collecting the ball deep and seeking to play the final pass into the box as he is to be on the end of it. The difference in role is the reason he had only three assists in 37 appearances in all competitions last year and he has six in 14 games so far in 2015.
BWP is still the primary attacking force on the team: RBNY has scored 20 goals this season in all competitions and its lone Designated Player has directly contributed to 11 of them. Playing a role in 55% of your team's goals is a pretty decent return for anyone. (For example, last year RBNY scored 66 goals: BWP contributed to 34, or 52%; Thierry Henry had a
hand foot in 29, or 44%.)
In MLS, he has five goals and four assists, which puts him a notch below the elite tier of all-around attacking players in the league at this point in the season: Clint Dempsey and Sebastian Giovinco have each accumulated seven goals and six assists to date; Obafemi Martins has seven goals and four assists; Feilhaber has five goals and seven assists.
His output compares well, however, to that of one player who may well feature in the MVP conversation at the end of the year (well, the part of the conversation about who finishes second to Giovinco): Fabian Castillo currently has
four five goals and five assists.from 14 appearances and 1,193 minutes; BWP has bagged his five goals and four assists in 13 appearances and 1,088 minutes.
It is frustrating to watch a man who seemed so unerringly effective in front of goal last year appear to scuff and shank so many shots this year, but every player suffers a loss of form from time to time. And BWP has compensated by being an unexpectedly effective playmaker.
The match against Atlanta, where it seemed as though Wright-Phillips could have had four or five assists if his teammates were more confident finishers, being merely the most recent example. And BWP still bagged two assists against the Silverbacks. Yes, one was secondary, but Once A Metro doesn't make the statistics: if the stats keepers say they all count the same, then we'll have to take their word for it.
Those two assists were significant. They put BWP's all-time, all-competitions assists tally for RBNY to 10, which means he's hit double digits in goals and assists for the club. That's a less common achievement than you might think: Wright-Phillips is just the 25th player in the 20-year, two-names history of the team to reach that mark.
It's not as impressive as his goal-scoring record (he's sixth on the Red Bulls' all-time scoring list at the moment). Nor is it the hallmark of an out-and-out attacking genius; no disrespect to Dax McCarty (10 goals and 18 assists so far in his RBNY tenure). But it is still an important milestone.
Not least because last year he was ludicrously pegged as a one-dimensional player, only good for scoring goals. Now he seems to be reinventing himself as the team's primary playmaker. That is no small transition, especially for a player who the league's myopic taste-makers thought lacked creativity last season (the whole plan last season was to set him up in scoring positions; if he was passing instead of shooting, it generally meant something had gone wrong - but sure, quibble over assists when a guy hits a scoring record).
BWP has quietly changed his game to suit the needs of a new coach and, despite the current slump, is still the team's top scorer. He isn't going to score as many goals this year as he did in 2014 - he's 22 short of last year's league total (27) with 21 regular season games left to play, and it would take a major tactical adjustment for him to get back to that sort of scoring form. Nowadays, if he misses an easy chance (as all strikers will do from time to time), he is more likely to drop back and try to play someone else in for a shot on goal than seek out the next scoring opportunity for himself.
Many some a few This observer might long for a return to the BWP of 2014, but Jesse Marsch has a tactical plan he is trying to implement and it does not call for that sort of pure goal-scoring forward. Not that the coach much cares who scores the goals, but he does care how the goals are scored - and the current plan calls for a front-man who can force turnovers, hold the ball up, or distribute as often as he chases passes into the box.
Barring an unlikely tactical rethink, that is BWP's role for the foreseeable future, probably regardless of whether he ever scores again for RBNY. Because if he keeps setting goals up the way he has been, he is doing his job every bit as much as when he was scoring for fun last year.
So congratulations, BWP, for becoming just the 25th player to register double-digit goals and assists for this club. And congratulations for quietly making the transition from being the striker we'd always wanted to the playmaker few suspected you could be.
With thanks to MetroFanatic.com for the best public archive of MLS team statistics anywhere, here is the full list of the 25 players who have registered double digit goals and assists playing for RBNY (all-time, all competitions; current members of the squad in italics):
|Name||Games Played||Games Started||Minutes||Goals||Assists||Total Goals + Assists|
|Juan Pablo Angel||112||109||9648||62||14||76|
|Antony De Avila||37||34||3080||17||12||29|
|Dave van den Bergh||62||58||5101||10||13||23|