The major theme of this MLS season has to be the unpredictability. Granted, given the nature of the league, there is always going to be a degree of competitive balance. That’s the idea after all. But to think that Seattle Sounders, Columbus Crew, Portland Timbers and New York Red Bulls occupy the bottom four spots in their respective conferences would have been a tad absurd before the season started.
Some of those teams are showing cause for concern. But the New York Red Bulls are not one of those teams, and that is mainly because of Bradley Wright-Phillips.
So what has changed?
The main thing to blame is fortune. Or misfortune, in Wright-Phillips case. The shots just aren’t bulging the net. But it’s not like he is playing significantly worse. He isn’t being dispossessed any more than he ever has been. He is firing more shots at a 3% higher shot accuracy. He is notching more key passes. He is not being fouled any more. The only glaring difference is goals.
To take it one step further, consider what Wright-Phillips did the year before, in his breakout, 31 goal year. He finished with an absurd amount of goals, but it didn’t really start until the seventh game of the season. He scored on opening day and didn’t score again until the seventh week of matches.
There is only one curious stat that turns up. Wright-Phillips has yet to fire a shot from outside the box. All of his shots have come from short distance – twice as many, on average, than last year. That is the only potentially concerning area. These are easier, closer shots in higher frequency.
But even then, it’s still early and we have to believe that those numbers will level out as the year progresses.
It would be easy to look at Wright-Phillips, at the age of 31, and say that he is just deteriorating due to age. It’s a part of life. Most strikers would have long-since passed their zenith. But the fact that every single stat is lining up with what he has done in the past – except goals – means there is no reason to believe that Wright-Phillips has surpassed his usefulness.
Wright-Phillips is a key piece of this Red Bulls offense, and it is no surprise that as he struggles to get started, the Red Bulls do too. This is the same team that won the Supporter’s Shield last year. Wright-Phillips will come around, and when he does, so will the Red Bulls.
Just give it time.