Bradley Wright-Phillips has always been honest, sometimes brutal, about his performance and that of his team. Monday’s season wrap-up interview was no different as he broke down his own mindset and where the team failed against Atlanta.
BWP on Atlanta’s Defense: “The Plan Wasn’t to Retreat”
“We were told we were still going to press them high,” said Wright-Phillips about the coaching strategy in the series. “Once we got out there, they started passing it around and it was hard to really get our press going. The plan wasn’t to retreat or anything. On the day no one was really on the same page. It’s hard to stop a team like that when they get confident. We let them get confident.”
It is hard to argue with Wright-Phillips’ assessment after a season where the Red Bulls scored seemingly at will and the Englishman recorded his third 20-goal season since joining MLS in 2013. They had the goals and wins against Atlanta previously and the game plan appeared as straight forward as any. None of that materialized. Wright-Phillips found himself empty-handed, with no goals in four playoff games. Most frustrating, the goal disallowed at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. While understandable, it certainly a turning point that drastically shifted the balance of the series.
“We need to find something else when the games are tight,” said Wright-Phillips. “Both teams don’t want to lose. That’s when somebody, all of us, need to step up and do something. ”
Unfortunately that didn’t happen for the Red Bulls who couldn’t find the spark even with Alejandro Romero Gamarra and Daniel Royer on the field for the biggest game of the season. The team shut down and were helpless against a team that invited the pressure and didn’t seem interested in anything other than maintaining their dominant lead after the first leg of the series.
It is another year where Denis Hamlett and now head coach Chris Armas must analyze the roster and see where things went wrong. Atlanta had the depth, bringing the likes of Hector Villalba and Ezekiel Barco as game-changers. Red Bulls turned to unproven substitutes like Brian White and Andreas Ivan. The situation may have been different without injuries to Kyle Duncan, Vincent Bezecourt and Florian Valot. However, it still doesn’t change the fact that depth, which has plagued the team for years, once again became a piece of their undoing.
“I just want to go and try to win an MLS Cup,” said Wright-Philips about 2019 being the last year on his contract. “For this group of guys we get to be the first group of guys to do that. I don’t really think about the contract. I think I just want to win MLS Cup.”
Next year couldn’t come soon enough. The potential of games starting in February and the playoff structure shifting to single-game elimination gives the team a new reason to continue their regular season dominance. Red Bulls did not lose at Red Bull Arena this year in the playoffs and can take solace in knowing that another dominant regular season could give them the advantage they need to finally push through and finally break the Metro Curse.
Photo by Steve Hamlin