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Why Sunday could have been the last match, not for BWP, but Luis Robles

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Their warm embrace after the match seemed like a goodbye. But, to who?

Luis Robles and Bradley Wright-Phillips after the 4-3 elimination loss to Philadelphia on Sunday.
AP/Chris Szagola

CHESTER, Pa. – Franco Panizo of SBI Soccer brought to light an emotional moment caught by FS1 cameras between Bradley Wright-Phillips and Luis Robles after the final whistle on Sunday. The moment shows a tear-filled, 10-second embrace between the two longest tenured starters on the team: the 34-year-old striker Wright-Phillips and the 35-year-old goalkeeper Robles.

Many have interpreted this as the end to an era, a seven-year run spanning three head coaches with three Supporters’ Shields. But, while most of the attention has been on Wright-Phillips’ possible exit, the tear-jerking interaction may have actually been a goodbye for Robles, not him.

There are several reasons for this thought, beginning with a sit-down conversation with Wright-Phillips last week. For the first time in a good while, he looked energized when speaking about the future. He revealed how the niggling in his groin dated back before the start of his absence in late April, all the way to the CONCACAF Champions League series with Santos Laguna in March.

MLS: Champions League-Santos Laguna at New York Red Bulls
BWP revealed that his groin issue first flared up against Santos Laguna in March.
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Doctors revealed he needed eight weeks of inactivity to properly heal the groin, a timeline he tried to condense to his own detriment in the midst of the season. Even though he returned from injury, he was never right this season, if that wasn’t already clear from his play.

But, with an off-season – and a lengthier one than prior seasons, at that – Wright-Phillips believes strongly that he can surprise a lot of people in 2020.

“It’s annoying that it’s come, because I’m getting older and that’s what it looks like, you know?” Wright-Phillips said. “And it could be, but, in my mind, I’m just like, ‘I can’t wait to get back fit.’ Because I know people probably think, ‘Oh, he’s past it.’ You know, I see shit [that’s said]. So, I’m excited to get over this.”

How much of his old form he can rediscover remains to be seen, but Wright-Phillips’ injury is one he hopes to move past, however chronic it was this year. Before this season, Wright-Phillips had been the epitome of durable, starting at least 28 regular season matches in five consecutive seasons.

Robles, conversely, has not spoken about his future in such terms. After a fiery season-ending series with Toronto in 2017, a teary-eyed Robles said that he just hoped to be a part of the club’s future. He could see the potential season to come in 2018. On Sunday, his tone was different.

“I just hope I get to be a part of [the club’s future],” a teary-eyed Robles said after the 2017 playoff loss.
YouTube, New York Red Bulls

“I just want to take this opportunity to say, I’m really proud of these guys,” Robles said. “It’s really been a pleasure to be their teammate and their captain this season.”

Since his 183-game Ironman streak was broken in May 2018, he’s played through his fair share of pain. There was the partial ACL tear that ended the streak, but only sidelined him three games. Robles’ explanation for such a short spell on the sideline was that his knee had no structural damage, despite the tear.

This season, he suffered through debilitating cramps during a match in D.C. in August, which were revealed afterward to be more than an isolated occurrence.

Robles knows there is a starting-caliber backup behind him in Ryan Meara, who, at 28 years old, has been beyond patient for the number one spot that was first his in 2012. Robles admitted after the streak ended last year that, if he felt he couldn’t be the best option in goal, he wouldn’t force himself in.

Maybe the pouring out of emotion with Wright-Phillips was him recognizing that moment has come.