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Bradley Wright-Phillips: New York Red Bulls and MLS Legend

John Rooney (Wayne), Digão (Kaká) and Bradley Wright-Phillips (Shaun). Three times, the New York Red Bulls signed the younger brother of a more famous soccer player. The third time was the charm and they struck gold.

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Unfortunately I spelled BWP’s name wrong because I liked this Tweet.

In June of 2013, Bradley Wright-Phillips, the younger and more anonymous brother of Shaun was looking for work.

After finishing out the 2012-13 season on loan at then-League One club Brentford, Wright-Phillips was told that he would need to find a new club as then-Championship side Charlton Athletic would not be offering him a new deal when his contract expired that July 1st.

Having graduated from Manchester City’s academy to its first team in 2004, the son of Arsenal legend Ian Wright began a career, of varying degrees of success and struggle, that took him on a journey throughout the English leagues with Man City, Southampton, Plymouth Argyle, Charlton and Brentford.

At the end of that winding road, he would find himself in the United States and on a trial with the New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer.

BWP made an immediate impression on then-Sporting Director Andy Roxburgh.

"He’s a good boy," Roxburgh said. "He played in the Under-20 England National Team underlining his potential. He played at Charlton. He’s quick and he can finish.

"We’ll see how quickly he blends and if it’s appropriate, because we need to negotiate with him of course. He is happy to come here and show us he’s got it.

"Hopefully we have enough to buy him."

Well, he blended in quickly and they had the money to sign him.

Despite going back to England after working out with the team in parts of June and July, Wright-Phillips was determined to come back and sign with New York.

"The players that are here, the facilities, I wanted to be a part of it," said Wright-Phillips following his first practice as a member of the Red Bulls. "Everything, you know, that you want in a club is here and I just wanted to experience it."

And what an experience it has been for him, the Red Bulls and their fans. 

While a peripheral player for RBNY’s 2013 Supporter’s Shield-winning side, Wright-Phillips scored twice in nine total appearances (seven in the regular season and two in the playoffs), including scoring at Red Bull Arena in the second leg of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series with the Houston Dynamo.

Then came 2014 and a star emerged. 

After starting the new season as a substitute, New York’s No. 99 cemented his starting place in head coach Mike Petke’s lineup in April of 2014 and went on to have one the best seasons in MLS history. Making 29 starts in 32 regular season appearances, BWP won the 2014 MLS Golden Boot, and tied the MLS single-season goal scoring record with 27 goals. 

As Red Bull legend Thierry Henry retired following the 2014 season, many wondered how Wright-Phillips would fare without the Frenchman providing space and service. 

Given a new contract with a raise and a Designated Player tag for the 2015 season, BWP would also have to adjust to a different role under the newly-installed high-press system under head coach Jesse Marsch. Despite not reaching the lofty heights of the previous season, Wright-Phillips expanded game, adding seven assists (up from two in 2014) to his 17 goals.

Having displayed his ability to play as a complete forward in 2015, BWP has been at his goal-scoring best in 2016. After a slow start in which Wright-Phillips was goalless over his first seven MLS appearances, he has been a menace to MLS defenses amassing 16 goals and five assists over his last 20 appearances. 

How did a fairly inconsistent scorer over a nine seasons in various English leagues, become one of the best goal scorers in MLS history?

Despite having a 21-goal season with Plymouth Argyle and Charlton in 2010-11 and a 22-goal campaign with Charlton in 2011-12, Wright-Phillips never netted double digit goals in any of his other seven professional seasons.

However, BWP’s finishing has been incredible during his time with RBNY. Since becoming a full-time starter in 2014, Wright-Phillips has posted one of the best conversation rates in MLS.

During his record-setting 2014 season, Wright-Phillips scored his 27 goals on 109 shots for 24.8% shooting. By scoring 27 times out of the 57 shots he registered on goal, BWP’s conversation rate was an impressive 47.4%

MLSSoccer.com
His numbers took a bit of a dip in 2015 as he scored "only" 17 times on 113 shots; a 15% clip. Those 17 goals came via 51 shots on goal for a 33.3% conversation rate.

MLSSoccer.com
In 2016, Wright-Phillips has returned to elite goal-scoring status as he has 16 goals on 77 shots; shooting 20.8%. This season’s conversation rate is at 31% as those 16 goals have come via 39 shots on goal.

MLSSoccer.com
What’s been particularly impressive about BWP’s 2016 is that those numbers include that seven-game scoring drought to begin the season. During that scoreless streak, Wright-Phillips took 25 total shots and put 12 of those on frame.

Since scoring his first two goals of the season in a 3-2 victory over Orlando City SC on April 24 at Red Bull Arena, BWP’s finishing has been God-level. Over his last 20 regular season appearances, 19 of which have been starts, he has scored 16 goals on 52 total shots for 30.8% shooting. But New York’s No. 99 has been unconscious when hitting the target, scoring 16 times out of 27 shots on goal for an astronomical 59.3% conversion rate.

Mind you, Wright-Phillips hasn’t scored via penalty kick for New York this season and that makes his conversion numbers even more impressive.

That incredible rate places him head and shoulders above his contemporaries on the MLS scoring list. As of publishing, BWP is currently tied with Sebastian Giovinco of Toronto FC for second on the MLS scoring list with 16 goals, David Villa of New York City FC leads the league with 17. While Giovinco and Villa lead MLS in total shots with 162 and 138 respectively, Wright-Philips is only sixth in the league with 77. Bradley’s ability to not waste shots, and put 39 of his 77 total shots on goal, place him third behind Villa and Giovinco in shots on goal. Villa and Giovinco have 57 and 54 respectively.

MLSSoccer.com
The only player in MLS who approaches theses lofty conversation rates has been Frank Lampard whose impressive 11 goals have come on only 31 shots in a smaller sample size of 16 appearances and 13 starts.

MLSSoccer.com
Wright-Phillips’ scoring efficiency hasn’t been lost on Marsch.

"Yeah, it's amazing to me that Brad doesn't get discussed more in the MVP race," the RBNY head coach said following New York’s 1-0 victory over the New England Revolution last Sunday.

"Obviously, there are some sexy names out there, in terms of great players in our league and guys that are having good years, but especially, again, if you look after the first seven games, if you look at the way Brad's played for the last 20 games, I don't think there's been anyone in the league that's been better."

Over the last three seasons, Bradley Wright-Phillips has scored 60 times in 93 MLS regular season appearances. With games still left in the 2016 season, BWP’s goal-scoring rate is in the top-six of the most prolific three-season stretches in MLS history.

Player Three-Season Stretch Goals Appearances Goals per Appearance

Robbie Keane

2013-15

55 76 0.724
Chris Wondolowski 2010-12 61 87 0.701
Carlos Ruiz 2002-04 50 72 0.694
Raul Diaz Arce 1996-98 56 82 0.693
Roy Lassiter 1996-98 55 85 0.647
BWP 2014-16 60 93 0.645


So, for Bradley Wright-Phillips, the Englishman with the more famous older brother and father, there’s still time to cement himself as not only the greatest goal-scorer in New York Red Bulls history, but as the greatest goal-scorer in MLS history.