photo by Howard C. Smith/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
HARRISON, N.J. — A jubilant New York Red Bulls’ locker room was filled with jokes about Bradley Wright-Phillips needing to take more sick days, and with good reason.
A day after being a health concern due to flu-like symptoms, Wright-Phillips’ delivered a hat-trick performance to help the Red Bulls to a romp of the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday night. The English forward was forced to miss Tuesday’s practice because of a minor virus, but he looked more than healthy in a memorable outing at Red Bull Arena that may have just solidified his place in New York’s starting lineup for now.
The 29-year-old forward proved a worthy partner up top next to Thierry Henry in the Red Bulls’ 4-0 mauling of Houston, getting involved in several of his side’s most dangerous scoring opportunities and finishing off three of them with aplomb. Wright-Phillips’ showing was one of several stellar strong individual performances for a dominant New York team, but it demonstrated that Wright-Phillips might be worth the $330,000 salary that many Red Bulls fans were recently critical of given his lack of production in front of goal.
“It’s not easy to partner along someone like Thierry and I mean that in a good way because Thierry is a guy that likes to drop and he’s so creative that a lot of times there’s only one guy up front,” said Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke. “It’s not an easy task for somebody. Bradley’s accepted that throughout this year and he knows he’s the guy that has to occupy the center backs for large chunks (of a game).
“We thought it was only a matter of time before he got a goal and then got a bit hot, but three goals tonight? I didn’t see this coming. Nothing against his ability or anything, it’s just that’s not an easy thing to do: score a hat-trick.”
Indeed, the veteran striker showed his goal-scoring abilities on Wednesday. Wright-Phillips was even involved in the one tally that he did not score himself, hitting a powerful cross from the right that Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall could only push into the path of Henry for an easy finish.
Wright-Phillips – who became the first English player to score a hat-trick in MLS and first Red Bulls player to do so since Henry accomplished the feat back in a 5-2 win over Montreal on March 31, 2012 - also showed other qualities that have been overlooked during his recent six-game scoreless streak. He stretched the back line with his speed, got himself into dangerous positions constantly and also pressured the Dynamo defenders incessantly.
“He does a lot of stuff that people don’t actually notice,” said forward partner Thierry Henry. “He works hard and he can hold the ball well and he’s available whenever you’re looking for him to show. You have to give him credit. Today, we can talk about the game and everything, but I just want to talk about Bradley. It’s his day today, I hope he enjoyed it and I hope he can build on what he has done today to help us to play better.”
Added Kosuke Kimura: “Definitely, we need a forward like him. Each team wants somebody who can run all day, sacrifices his body to get the ball for us, secure the ball. I’m a defender, I know. We hate it. We hate so much a forward who runs to the space because if they make a good run and quick, we have to follow them and that means we have to drop so much.
“He does that every day, every game, in training. It’s good to have him all the time, and he doesn’t complain, he works so hard. I’m just so happy that he had three goals today. That’s unbelievable.”
What made it even more unbelievable was that Wright-Phillips was battling a fever the day before. That still did not stop him from getting his latest start from Petke on Wednesday, and he repaid his coach’s faith by netting twice from the run of play in the opening 45 minutes and once on a penalty kick late in the second half.
The performance raised Wright-Phillips’ scoring total to a team-high four goals, and may have just paved the way for many more starts.
“Three goals is always good” said Wright-Phillips. “Even if I was playing with my friends anywhere, I’d be happy with three goals. I’m happy with a hat-trick for the Red Bulls. It’s good.”