Bradley Wright-Phillips New York Red BullsElsa

Wright-Phillips slams 'ridiculous' MLS officiating after costly yellow card

Bradley Wright-Phillips was four minutes away from another big New York Red Bulls victory and a week to get ready for the biggest game of the MLS regular season, against Atlanta United.

Then came a run-in with an assistant referee, with a yellow card for dissent triggering a one-match suspension for New York's star forward. 

Referee Kevin Stott's decision to issue Wright-Phillips a yellow card for shouting expletives at assistant referee Brian Poeschel left Wright-Phillips and Red Bulls coach Chris Armas irate at a decision that will now leave the Red Bulls without their star striker for next Sunday's battle for first place in MLS.

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Wright-Phillips tried to contain his disgust with the decision after the 2-0 win against Toronto FC, but still wound up bashing the officials and tempting an even longer suspension than the one match he is already set to miss.

"I’m gutted about it," Wright-Phillips said after the match. "There’s so much I want to say, but I know what these guys are like. If I tell the truth, they’ll just suspend me for another week. But it’s unacceptable. What I said wasn’t that bad. It was just a swear word in it and [Nick Hagglund] got my arm. Then you get booked and I miss the biggest game of the season next week. It’s ridiculous. 

"It’s ridiculous, man. It’s too big," he added. "We’re men. If you can’t take a swear word and what really happened then you’re in the wrong sport, man. That’s ridiculous."

Stott answered questions after the match submitted in writing by a pool reporter, and laid out that Wright-Phillips was issued a yellow card for cursing at Poeschel.

"He disputed that there was a foul that was not called that he suffered. Multiple use of the word “F---“ directed at the assistant referee in an aggressive manner," Stott wrote in a response to the pool reporter question of what led to the yellow card.

Wright-Phillips knew full well what led to the yellow card, and refused to agree that the punishment was warranted.

"If someone said that to me, I would be like ‘sorry, I missed it.’ It’s a yellow card," Wright-Phillips said. "This guy was having a nightmare all game."

Replays showed that Wright-Phillips was in fact being grabbed by Hagglung on the play leading up to the yellow card, but no foul was called. Only two fouls were called on defenders marking Wright-Phillips on a night when TFC was whistled for just seven fouls.

"Sometimes it does feel like it’s a lot for me to get fouled," Wright-Phillips said. "I’ve seen people fall over and get fouls. I don’t do that. Past managers have told me, even Jesse, Chris has said I should go down more, but I can’t. It’s not in me to do that. I don’t have to go down or make a meal out of it to get a foul. It’s ridiculous. These guys don’t understand football. I’m sorry."

Armas sided with his star player, saying that he doesn't feel Wright-Phillips gets the respect from officials that he deserves, and nowhere near the respect some of the league's other stars receive.

"I don't think he gets that benefit of the doubt in these moments," Armas said. "Not when you see the them firsthand four straight years. And there's probably no better forward over the course of that time. You guys tell us the stats, 20 goals a year, there's no better -- and he's the most honest one of them all. He doesn't cheat the game ever. So can the referee manage it in a way -- the guy's frustrated, I understand it - can I hold off on the yellow card?"

Wright-Phillips also claims that, while the overall quality of MLS has improved, the level of officiating in the league has not kept pace. 

"In my career I haven’t been suspended much," Wright-Phillips said. "I haven’t even had a red card or anything. I want to win and a lot of things frustrate me. I think this league has improved massively since I got here, but the people that officiate the games, I don’t think they have.

"There’s a lot of things going through my mind right now and I want to name names," he added. "But I’m trying to play the week after next. I’ll just leave it at that."

The Red Bulls are trailing Atlanta United by four points in the race for the Supporters' Shield, and the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Now they will face Atlanta United on September 29 without Wright-Phillips, the league's second-leading scorer with 19 goals (second to Atlanta's Josef Martinez, who has an MLS-record 30).

"This is the biggest game in years. In this league and for this franchise, it’s a massive game," Wright-Phillips said. "I’m confident the boys can win, but I’m gutted."