HARRISON, N.J. — When Bradley Wright-Phillips arrived in the United States a year ago, he came in part for a new adventure in life, a new soccer experience, and for a chance to play alongside the legendary Thierry Henry.
While his first season with the New York Red Bulls wasn't exactly a breakout campaign, Wright-Phillips has taken full advantage of the opportunity to partner with Henry in 2014, with Wednesday night's hat trick offering the most clear evidence yet that the English striker might just be the man to halt the revolving door that has become the forward slot next to Henry.
"It's not easy to play (strike) partner alongside someone like Thierry," Petke said after Wednesday's 4-0 thrashing of the Houston Dynamo. "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 the times only one guy is up front. It's not an easy task for somebody. Bradley's accepted that throughout this year and he knows he's the guy whose occupied the centerbacks for large chunks.
"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 obviously."
The son of former Arsenal legend Ian Wright, and brother of former England international Shaun Wright-Phillips, Wright-Phillips came to the United States for a new career experience after bouncing around English leagues. He didn't know what to expect, but he admits that he underestimated MLS.
"I just wanted to experience it. I never used to watch MLS before so I had negative views," Wright-Phillips told Goal USA on Wednesday. "I thought it wasn’t a good standard. When I got here I was very shocked. It’s hard and it’s a good level, and they look after you here. I love it.”
Wright-Phillips settled in well from the start, helped by the presence of old friend and former England Under-20 teammate Lloyd Sam. Though he did show some some flashes in 2013, he has shown more quality in 2014. Never moreso than on Wednesday night, when he helped Henry take apart Houston's defense.
When asked about taking on the responsibility of trying to be the kind of reliable strike partner for Henry that the Red Bulls have been craving for years, Wright-Phillips admitted to just being happy to have the chance to play with the French legend.
"I don’t feel pressure about it," Wright-Phillips said of being partnered with Henry. "Every day I train with him I try to learn so even if it don’t work out I can take something somewhere else because it’s Thierry Henry. I grew up watching that guy scoring goals for Arsenal. I’m very lucky to have played with him. I just try to listen to him on the pitch, and stay close."
Wright-Phillips has settled in well in the New York area, and aside from having to endure a winter filled with shoveling snow -- something he didn't have to do very often in England -- the 29-year-old former Manchester City player has loved everything about coming to America.
One hope Wright-Phillips has is to be a part of MLS as it continues to grow, and he hopes eventually reaches the levels of popularlty that leagues like the NFL and NBA currently enjoy.
"I’d like for it to get a bit bigger so we can start filling out these stadiums," Wright-Phillps told Goal USA. "These American guys are very good at (soccer) and I feel like they should be noticed for it in their country like football players and basketball players."
Wright-Phillips also admits to receiving regular inquiries from friends and former teammates back in England about the American League. He only has good things to say, though he jokes that he can't help them find a job here.
"All the English players I know are always texting me. 'Can you get me over there? Is there a trial about?'," Wright-Phillips joked. "But I can’t help them man. I took the the last spot."