It took 34 games, but Bradley Wright-Phillips will have his name in the MLS record books. The New York Red Bulls striker struck twice in a 2-0 win at Kansas City to close out the regular season, giving him the 2014 Budweiser Golden Boot and tying the league single season scoring record. The win gives the Red Bulls home field advantage for Thursday night's Wild Card matchup.
BWP hits 27. After struggling for goals for the last few weeks, Bradley Wright-Phillips game through with a late push to match the league's all-time scoring record, set by Roy Lassiter in 1996 and tied by Chris Wondolowski in 2012. His first goal, set up by Eric Alexander, saw him break free into the box and easily score one-on-one against Eric Kronberg.
The English striker would get his second late in the match, picking the pocket of SKC defender Aurelin Collin and breaking free for the insurance goal.
BWP wouldn't hit 28. The last twenty minutes turned into a free-for-all of New York players trying to set up Wright-Phillips so that he could get his 28th goal of the season, making the record all his own. Whether it was passes from team mates like Tim Cahill, or spurious attempts to draw a penalty (we see you, Roy Miller), BWP could not find his fourth hat trick of the year. The team was so single-minded that Ruben Bover, who substituted on late, was given grief by some teammates for taking his own shot on goal.
The disarmingly humble Wright-Phillips remarked to ESPN after the game that not getting the 28th goal made him realize he "needs to brush up on my finishing next season". Bradley, we love you, but no one's going to begrudge you a little swagger after hitting a record like that.
The team shape held up. With Thierry Henry a sudden scratch due to Achilles issues, the 4-2-3-1 formation that RBNY has been using in the fall got a slight remix, with Tim Cahill into the center playmaking role and Ambroise Oyongo out wide left. It held up: Sporting was limited to a single shot on target the entire night, despite dominating possession the entire second half.
The rematch comes Thursday. The win pushes the Red Bulls just above Sporting Kansas City into fourth and fifth respectively. Thanks to the bizarre structure of the MLS Cup playoffs, this means the teams will face each other again on Thursday, in a single elimination match at Red Bull Arena. The winner will proceed to face Eastern Conference winners DC United in a two-legged series starting on Sunday.
Sporting has looked abysmal over the last month, winning just two of their last ten. The team is exhausted, hobbled by injuries, and seems to have forgotten how to play soccer. Despite the fact that the Red Bulls have not won a home playoff games since RBA opened in 2010, it should be a very winnable game.
Next Match: Thursday, October 30th, 8:00 PM, Eastern Conference Wild Card vs. Sporting Kansas City (TV: ESPN2)