When Bradley Wright-Phillips joined the New York Red Bulls in 2013, the 28-year-old Englishman was known best as Arsenal legend Ian Wright's second son and Premier League star Shaun Wright-Phillips' younger brother.
"I wasn't good enough when I was in England," said Wright Phillips, who retired as a Red Bull via a special one-day contract last year — after stints with LAFC (2020) and the Columbus Crew (2021) — and who now works as a matchday analyst for MLS on Apple TV.
"When I came to America, I honestly had a conversation with myself and basically said, 'This is it. Are you going to go out as Ian Wright's son? Or are you going to make a name for yourself and show people what you can do?"
The rest, of course, is history: ‘BWP’ went on to become MLS's fastest player to 100 goals (in 159 games) and for a solid stretch in the last decade was the league's most lethal forward.
SOCCER AMERICA: Three weeks into the MLS season. Biggest surprise for you, so far?
BRADLEY WRIGHT-PHILLIPS: It's got to be St. Louis. I had them finishing bottom. And that's not to be disrespectful — I'm very close with Bradley Carnell [St. Louis City's head coach and former Red Bull assistant coach] and have spoken with him a few times. It shouldn't have surprised me, but the character of the team — it's not like they've played any team off the park, but they just seem so difficult to beat. They don't give up and I shouldn't expect anything less than Bradley.
Another surprise, and this makes me come across as silly, but Seattle. I don't think they were good last year, maybe they were more devoted to Champions League last season. But I think they're the strongest team in the league. I'm very impressed.
SA: Can teams have a chip on their shoulder?
BRADLEY WRIGHT-PHILLIPS: You hear what people say about you. For me, that was a big part of my 2020 season with LAFC. I would read so many things about myself. And only you really know what's going on with you. You'd read so much stuff and all that would do would build this beast inside of me. That's what Seattle has done — defensively they look very strong, the attacking options are ridiculous. I don't see teams having an easy time against them this season. I think they'll win the shield, honestly.
SA: Oh yeah?
BRADLEY WRIGHT-PHILLIPS: Yes. God willing there aren't too many injuries. They've just got so much.
SA: How do you like being an MLS 360 analyst for MLS Season Pass on Apple TV?
BRADLEY WRIGHT-PHILLIPS: I love it. I want to get good at it and I want to be the best. But I'm one of those people, when I'm not familiar with something I'm just kind of learning my surroundings, figuring out how everything works. Like anyone.
I struggled in the first show, it was difficult for me. It was weird, I didn't know when I could — it was hard to find spaces where I could be Bradley. As the weeks have gone on I've figured out how to slide in a little joke here or this is a part where you're serious.
Obviously, I watch a lot of football. And I like to have a conversation about the game and seek different opinions. And I realized after a few weeks, that's all it is. I've learned it's just having conversations about football and things that people want to hear. I'm doing the same thing at home with my wife. Also I like to dress up, man, being on TV with my suit on. I like that I'm not good at it. I want to learn and get better — I love a challenge.
SA: Were there any broadcasters you looked up to when taking on the role at Apple?
BRADLEY WRIGHT-PHILLIPS: My dad does this in England, and I think people like that he is himself. I thought, 'If I do this, I want to be like that.' The rest of [the broadcasters] didn't interest me because it sounds so boring — just judgemental, boring stuff.
SA: Thierry Henry is another one that's unapologetically himself.
BRADLEY WRIGHT-PHILLIPS: Yeah, that's a good one. Having played with Thierry, I didn't think he would do that. I knew he could — he's so smart, when it comes to football he's like a scientist, almost. The way he breaks down football and sees it. At the moment, he's probably my favorite to listen to.
SA: You joined MLS and the Red Bulls in the summer of 2013. Ten years on, how do you see the evolution of the player's experience in MLS? Or how team rosters are built differently than in your own era?
BRADLEY WRIGHT-PHILLIPS: There's a lot more fan love. There's a lot more supporters going to games. When we were playing, there was a good batch of players — a few DPs, and then college kids. It was more of the DP era, when teams would just get a big name. They're more thought about now — they're scouting better, coaching better.
SA: You’re the fastest player in MLS history to reach 100 goals. Did you change your game at all upon entering MLS to be more dangerous? Or was your playing style a difficult one for the league’s defenses to handle?
BRADLEY WRIGHT-PHILLIPS: You know what? I'll be so honest with you. My all-around game got better when I came to America because I played with Thierry and I learned a lot from him. But it was a decision I made in my head. Before I got to America, football came second to me. If asked me at the time, I would've said no. But when I thought about how seriously I took goalscoring and really devoted my time.
I wasn't good enough when I was in England. When I came to America, I honestly had a conversation with myself and basically said, 'This is it. Are you going to go out as a player that had some ability, Ian Wright's son? Or are you going to make a name for yourself and show people what you can do?'
And I genuinely had that conversation with myself. As soon as I got to America I didn't look back. I found the beast within to score goals and be as prolific as I could.
SA: Soccer wasn't your No. 1 when you were in England? What was?
BRADLEY WRIGHT-PHILLIPS: I just loved everything else about the game. Going out with my friends — when you're young, you get recognized in England, it's different than [in America] — I liked those things more than I loved training and working hard. At the time, I didn't think that, but when I look back my priorities weren't in the right place. I'd go to nightclubs and bars, wouldn't stay and do much after training, do you know what I mean?
When I got here I was 28 years old. I didn't have much of a career left. I was halfway through it and it was time to grow up. I grew up late but was happy to grow up.
SA: How did playing with Thierry Henry elevate your game?
BRADLEY WRIGHT-PHILLIPS: It was about thinking outside of the box. I can give you an example: There were opportunities in the game that I wouldn't look at as a chance. But Thierry would show me after a game; he'd say to me, 'You missed two chances today.' I'd be racking my brain thinking, 'No, I had one that the keeper saved.' And he would take me through a video saying, 'No. You had that chance when I played you through.'
Maybe to me the defender got there first. But he would show me how I could beat that defender: not with pace but where I position my body. So letting a defender run into my back, or putting myself in front of him. It gives you an extra second to trap and then finish. But before speaking to Thierry, it was just, 'No, I lost a battle with a defender and that wasn't a chance.' But he made me recognize what good scoring chances were and how to get into those positions.
SA: It's amazing that you're learning things as a professional 30-year-old.
BRADLEY WRIGHT-PHILLIPS: Exactly. It shows you what level those guys are playing at. [Guys like Thierry] live differently, think differently, go about the game differently. That's why we enjoy watching him on TV because we don't see what he sees. I got that just a little bit and it was amazing for my career.
SA: It's funny to interview an ex-pro as successful as yourself and hear you speak of Henry like he's an alien from another planet.
BRADLEY WRIGHT-PHILLIPS: He is. We take him for granted, like him, Messi, top players that we get to see every week. Until you're with these guys on the pitch with them or talk to them, you'd never understand what goes through their mind.
BRADLEY WRIGHT-PHILLIPS: Red Bulls are still very dear to my heart. I still work for the club — I want it to get broken because we need someone like that. We need goals. We need goals for sure. I'd like for it to be broken one day.
But I'm not going to lie, they're going to have to work hard. They'll have to be clinical and really devote their time to this club. That's what I did. I had opportunities to leave Red Bull and that wasn't ever in my plans. It had something to do with the age I was too. If I was there at 20 maybe it's a different story but I was 28 already with a family, comfortable year after year and trying to improve.
SA: With your dad and older brother in mind, in your childhood, was there ever any doubt in your mind that you were going to be a footballer?
BRADLEY WRIGHT-PHILLIPS: No. No there wasn't. I've been asked this a lot. Not even in an arrogant way — but it's like I had no choice. A lot of people asked me when I was younger, 'Did you feel pressure?' I literally just thought, 'This is how it goes.' My dad plays and my brother plays so I'm next. It never kicked in. I just followed my brother — just copied the blueprint. It was never, 'I might not make it.' It was just, 'this is what's next.' It was never a worry.
SA: Which of your many soccer skills specifically made you successful in MLS? And for the coaches out there, what were the best drills that helped you hone those skills?
BRADLEY WRIGHT-PHILLIPS: If you tell me to do a drill, I'm going to just mess it up or do it too casually. But I would set goals in training. If we were playing five-a-side, that was my finishing drill. I would go into it like it was a match, shoot quickly, try and shoot within a second. I'd do games with myself — I don't think a coach could get that out of me, I was always a good finisher, just triggers in my mind.
Coaches who had a big impact on my career, though? Jesse Marsch.
Before I met Jesse, I was just a guy who wanted to score goals — didn't want to talk or be a leader. When Jesse came to Red Bull, he told me, "I want you to be a leader on this team and I want you to talk in meetings, help the younger guys." I told him, "No, Jesse, we haven't met but when you get to know me you'll understand I'm kind of just a soldier. You tell me what you want from me and I'll go and do it. And he said, "There's no way. No way. You're going to be a leader, you're going to talk, understand what we're trying to do and filter that down to the rest of the team."
Me and a few other guys he wanted that from. I was against it but it helped me so much. It helped me understand my role, what we were trying to accomplish. I got better in my all-around game. Just everything being under Jesse Marsch — it was amazing for my career.
SA: Why number 99?
BRADLEY WRIGHT-PHILLIPS: It's as glamorous as you think. When I got to Red Bulls there was the option between 45 and 99. I remember being young — just felt like 1999 was a great summer. I just remember it being a good summer — that's all I could connect it to. You're out with your friends, you're young, riding bikes, going to your first house parties — it was just like, cool.
SA: Best player you played with?
BRADLEY WRIGHT-PHILLIPS: That's difficult. I've been lucky. Honestly, so. Obviously Thierry. My brother — not because he's my brother but because there was a time when Shaun, in 2004 or 2005, was unplayable sometimes. One of the best ever wingers in England.
Adam Lallana was one of the most technically gifted players I'd ever played with. Gareth Bale, a young Gareth Bale at Southampton — he was 16 and scoring winners for us, free kick goals, out of this world.
This is going to sound like I'm bragging, but Andy Cole. Robbie Fowler. There were a lot of guys I got to play with that were really instrumental to my career.
Best I've played against? It's hard. Steven Gerrard. You know who really impressed me? Robbie Keane. Jermaine Defoe.
SA: Best defender you played against in MLS?
BRADLEY WRIGHT-PHILLIPS: Ike Opara. The thing about him — I'd see him against another team and it felt like he wasn't aggressive with them the way he was with me. The thing with him was, everything I loved to do played to his strengths. He was quick, strong and agile for his size. I couldn't have my way. Some of those games I knew: if I'm scoring today, it's going to be a ricochet in the box and I'm going to snapshot it.
SA: Have you heard of The Soccer Tournament’s 7v7 tournament this summer with $1 million on the line? Will you be playing?
BRADLEY WRIGHT-PHILLIPS: At the moment I'm on a team, but I can't say what team I'm on. The person told me not to say anything. He wants to surprise everyone with the team.