Last night in front of a very select crowd of 17,891 fans, leading MLS goalscorer Bradley Wright-Phillips tied the New York Red Bulls and New York MetroStars record for goals in a single season. His 74th minute effort was provided to him by marquee man Thierry Henry. In the closing seconds of regulation play, as the arena announcer was signalling how much time the fourth official had added to the game, Wright-Phillips scored again to become the new record holder. Former Aston Villa striker Juan Pablo Angel was the previous holder, having scored 19 goals during his first season with the team in 2007, and now Wright-Phillips broke it in his first complete season with the team.
“Going back to last year when we got him, he was up and down,” said coach Mike Petke after the game. “He had his moments at the end of last year, and had his cold moments and then early this year in the first two to three weeks of preseason, if you had told me that he’d be on 20 goals with 10 games left, I would have laughed at you – to be honest with you. We laugh about it now because even in preseason shooting practice Bradley couldn’t score”.
Based around Wright-Phillips achievements before this game, the Red Bull marketing department had come up with a promotion for fans to buy tickets to two games and if he scored in both, they will get their pick of a third game free. Last night in front of an arena that was less than two-thirds full, he completed the first half of the promotion with consummate ease.
Bradley Wright-Phillips is the son of Ian Wright, a former Arsenal legend, Crystal Palace striker and England international, and brother of Shaun Wright-Phillips, who currently plays as a winger for Queens Park Rangers and has also played for the England national team. While there is rumored interest in Wright-Phillips back in England, he said back in August that he plans to stay with the Red Bulls and continue his career here in New York.
Rumors have also been whispered about Red Bull team captain Thierry Henry and his playing future. There is uncertainty as to whether the former Arsenal great will continue playing next season or call an end to his illustrious career once the season finishes. With the assist in the 74th minute, Henry tied LA Galaxy’s Robbie Keane on the MLS leaderboard, sitting on 11 so far this season. If Henry can produce a further three assists he will tie former MetroStar Eduardo Hurtado’s record for most assists in a single season from 1998. Last night the Frenchman wasn’t just on the field in a support role. He scored New York’s first and second goals of the game, after Montreal had taken a 1-0 lead to the locker room at the half. “He picked the team up and put them on his back,” said coach Mike Petke in the post-game press conference.
With two stellar performances last night, and the team sitting just on the cusp of post-season play, you’d have thought that there would have been more fans in the stands. There was a robust Montreal supporters group beating drums and waving flags up in section 220, but elsewhere in the upper bowl there were more than just whole rows that were empty. There were whole sections that had no more than a few dozen fans.
After the game, there was a jeep that was still parked in the garage that had three fans standing around listening to the song “Could You Be Loved” by Bob Marley. It echoed through the building. The Red Bulls at this point in time should be more loved than they are. On Tuesday night they will face C.D. FAS in a CONCACAF Champions League match. Hopefully as the team reaches for the collective goal of this series, fans will begin to fill the seats.