When Bradley Wright-Phillips arrived at the New York Red Bulls in the summer of 2013, it seemed he was mostly interested in a chance to play with Arsenal legend Thierry Henry, and maybe enjoy the sights of New York City.
He got a season-and-a-half with Henry, and the one full season they had together saw BWP shock MLS with 27 goals in the 2014 regular season, equaling the league's single-season scoring record and obliterating the RBNY club record for goals in a single year.
Many claimed it was the "Henry effect" that propelled BWP to that season of greatness, and it certainly didn't hurt his scoring touch to have one of the greatest players of all time on his side. But if you review that whole season, you can see why it would have been surprising if Henry's retirement signaled the end of BWP's scoring streak. And as we have seen since the start of the Jesse Marsch era, he continues to score at a remarkable rate in MLS (though those who refuse to believe their eyes have simply found a new playmaker to credit for Wright-Phillips' productivity in front of goal).
The stalwarts of Mike Petke's years in charge of the team - Henry, Peguy Luyindula, Eric Alexander, latterly Lloyd Sam - have been replaced by new heroes: Sacha Kljestan, Mike Grella, maybe even Gonzalo Veron if the coming season works out for him. And BWP has kept finding the net, despite significant changes in both team and tactics.
There is, of course, something exceptional about 27 goals in a season in MLS. It remains the most any player has ever managed to fit into a single regular season, and BWP is one of three players who have found 27 was the most they could score before running out of league games to play for the year. But Wright-Phillips has pushed on, scoring at a rate that matches - and now exceeds - the best any prior player in MLS.
He shares the league's single-season scoring record with Roy Lassiter and Chris Wondolowski. In 2015, he scored 17 in the regular season, helping RBNY to the Supporters' Shield and winning himself a share of the MLS record for goals in back-to-back regular seasons - a record he shares with former Southampton teammate Stern John.
And then, in 2016, he added 24 more and claimed a few records all to himself. He eclipsed Chris Wondolowski to become the all-time most prolific scorer of goals in MLS over three consecutive regular seasons, finishing 2016 with 68 goals in three years (Wondo's record was 61). He also became the first player in league history to have twice scored 20 or more goals in a season in the league. And he passed Juan Pablo Angel as the top career goal scorer in Metro/RBNY history.
It has been the most extraordinary period of sustained scoring by a single player in MLS history, and BWP will get at least another season to see what else he can do in this league.
Initially, BWP's favorite opponent in MLS was the Houston Dynamo. His first league goal was against Houston. His first playoff goal was against Houston. His first league hat-trick was against Houston. He has seven career goals against the Dynamo, but he has a new favorite now: NYCFC. RBNY's new, blue neighbors have only existed since 2015 and only played the Red Bulls five times - BWP has eight goals against them.
The two New York teams of MLS have yet to meet in the post-season, but it is to be hoped BWP is still around when and if they do. He's RBNY's all-time leading scorer in the MLS playoffs with seven career goals, and would presumably enjoy the chance to add to his post-season total with a game or two against his favorite opponent.
Seven playoff goals and 69 in the regular season give BWP a career total of 76 goals in all competitions for RBNY. He has reset expectations of goal scorers at the club and will leave a high standard for those who follow him to meet. A standard any of the rest of the team's all-time top five scorers would themselves have struggled to meet.
Compare BWP's record - 76 goals in 126 appearances - to that of the club's other two superior strikers: Giovanni Savarese and JPA (excluding Henry and Clint Mathis here because they weren't quite the single-minded scorers that BWP, Savarese and JPA are/were for the team). Wright-Phillips has made more appearances for the team than either player, but he's also scored at a rate they'd likely have difficulty matching: BWP has 14 more goals than Angel in 14 more games for RBNY, and he has scored 32 more than Savarese in 32 more games.
The next primary scoring threat for the Red Bulls will have a lot to live up to.
Wright-Phillips himself is stubbornly self-effacing. He repeatedly deflects praise to focus on the team's goals. As far as he is concerned, the job he came here to do is not done. As he said after RBNY's latest season without adding MLS Cup to the trophy cabinet:
"We can talk about individual achievements but I feel like if I scored in the first leg (against Montreal) and maybe one more chance in the second leg maybe it would've been different. We can talk about a Golden Boot, but you score goals to win things and we didn't win anything."
In 2017, BWP and RBNY will have the unfamiliar chance to win something important before most teams in MLS have finished making excuses about "pre-season form". The New York Red Bulls will begin their season two weeks earlier than usual, as they will face the Vancouver Whitecaps in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League. Few are expecting any team from MLS to win CCL - since no team from MLS has ever won CCL (indeed, no team outside Liga MX has ever won CCL; CONCACAF's regional club tournament has been out of reach of all but Mexican clubs since it changed its format in 2008).
If BWP were to be instrumental in confounding the region's CCL expectations, maybe the respect he gets in MLS would move beyond "grudging" (can't argue with all those goals, but "Henry effect"...and Kljestan...and doubtless anyone else with a significant assists tally for RBNY when BWP has a big scoring year) and closer to "sincere".
Wright-Phillips lacks star power. He scored the goals that recommended him to the Red Bulls in England's League One. And he landed at a team that has a long history of securing some of world soccer's brightest stars: Matthaus, Donadoni, Djorkaeff, Cahill, Marquez, Henry. They didn't all work out, and their success or failure was largely measured by how well they appeared to measure up for the standards they set for themselves on bigger stages at earlier moments in their career.
RBNY is not the biggest club BWP has ever played for - he came through Manchester City's academy - but he has outperformed all the stars of MLS, both foreign and domestic, in the most valuable statistic in the game: goals scored.
At some point he will slow down, not because his achievements have been a fluke but because he is 31 years old. Age will catch up with him.
But he's not done yet. All we can hope for from Bradley Wright-Phillips is that he continues to score for RBNY. And if we're very lucky , maybe he becomes the first MLS striker to record three seasons with 20+ goals, maybe even the first player to tally 20 goals in back-to-back seasons. If he does that, he'll be in the conversation for best player in MLS history.