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LAFC 2020 player postmortem: Bradley Wright-Phillips

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Legend came and went like a comet.

Vancouver Whitecaps v Los Angeles FC

Bradley Wright-Phillips is a player whose history in MLS was one of the best stories to date: The son of an England international and the brother of an England international, Wright-Phillips came to trial with the New York Red Bulls with his career in England stuck in neutral, and at first it didn’t look like he was really going to make the grade stateside.

But after a half-season of getting his sea legs under him in MLS, BWP took off like a cannon, posting at least 17 goals five seasons in a row and tying the then-MLS single-season record along the way. Wright-Phillips went from a last-chance flier to one of the very best forwards in MLS history.

After a season in which he was sidelined by the Red Bulls and felt they were trying to push him out the door, he signed with LAFC in 2020 as a free agent to provide depth in attack. And boy, was that a smart decision in the end by the club.

If everything had gone according to plan, BWP may not have played a ton, with Carlos Vela, Diego Rossi, Brian Rodriguez the de facto starters and Adama Diomande expected to crack the rotation again and show what he could do after a difficult 2019 season.

But with Dio getting injured and leaving the club midseason, and Vela unavailable the majority of the MLS campaign, BWP’s number was called, and he was a terrific second banana to Rossi, MLS’s Golden Boot winner in 2020.

Here were BWP’s stats in 2020:

Bradley Wright-Phillips 2020 LAFC Statistics

2020 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
2020 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
Regular Season 18 14 1,081 8 6 33 15 0 0
MiB Knockouts 2 2 122 1 1 2 1 0 0
Playoffs 1 1 45 0 0 0 0 0 0
CCL 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total 21 17 1,248 9 7 35 16 0 0

Wright-Phillips benefitted from the coronavirus shutdown, because he recovered from hernia surgery and was able to really take his time to heal up and come back strong. So by the time the games returned, he was ready, and since there was a spot in the lineup, he was ready to go.

It’s worth highlighting BWP’s assists, too. His numbers in 2020 were in line with what he produced throughout his MLS career, but for a player who is considered a killer in the box, he’s actually been very underrated in setting up his teammates more often than you think, too.

Wright-Phillips’ play was vital for LAFC, because without him, Rossi would have been marked out of games and the team’s attack would have really sputtered. But with BWP always needing to keep defenders honest, that gave both players, and their teammates, space and opportunities to score, and that basically kept the season afloat.

Given the resurgent season he had, it was a great honor for BWP to be voted MLS Comeback Player of the Year, an award he really seemed surprised to receive. But even on a new team, at 35, in a difficult year, he brought it on the field and was a vital player. Not bad for a player who may not have been in line for a ton of playing time originally.

And that appeared to be the turning point of his tenure with LAFC. After the playoff loss against the Seattle Sounders, LAFC made their roster decisions and decided not to bring back BWP for 2021. Whether that was a definitive decision that he would not return or if it was that the club was declining an option but still interested in bringing him back is unclear, but when the player was given the opportunity to participate in the final games of the Concacaf Champions League in 2020 because he was technically under contract through the end of the year, but not required to play, BWP was the highest-profile player who declined to continue on.

I can understand BWP on this front — if you are looking to continue your career, then why risk your health for a team that is pushing you out the door? At the same time, walking away from a chance to win a title is a bit disappointing. Bob Bradley spoke obliquely about the challenges of the calendar when the club had to make their roster decisions, and the subtext was he was talking about Wright-Phillips not playing in CCL. Could BWP have made a difference? We don’t know for sure, but another player with a track record of scoring big goals on the field? It wouldn’t have been bad! Maybe it was the difference between running out of steam in the final against Tigres and winning.

So the exit was abrupt, and BWP didn’t waste time in finding a new spot, signing a free agent deal with the Columbus Crew for 2021. He may not get as much playing time there, but the defending champs are set up to be a contender again and so he’ll probably do just fine.

But there’s a sense that it shouldn’t have ended this way. BWP wasn’t going to play another 10 years, but I think he could have contributed for another year or two, especially around a young core of LAFC forwards. He’s a fantastic quote, genuinely funny, always honest, and a legend on the field. It was a brief run at LAFC for Wright-Phillips, but he burned brightly in that short time.

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