Give BWP A Rest – It’s Time for the Abang Show

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by PATRICK MacDONALD

EDITORIAL – Last season the New York Red Bulls scored a league leading 62 goals en route to their second Supporters Shield trophy. A whopping 17 of those goals came from the foot of DP striker, Bradley Wright-Phillips.

Thus far in 2016, the Red Bulls have four goals in five games; all coming in one contest — and none coming from Wright-Phillips. This despite the striker enjoying the third most shots and second most on target in MLS.

It’s alarming when a squad’s star striker can’t score, especially with the bevy of opportunities provided. To be fair to Wright-Phillips, he’s a notoriously slow starter as well. In his MLS single-season record tying goal campaign, he had one garbage time goal to his name before scoring a hat trick in the 8th contest of the season. Last season, he scored once from the run of play before notching a brace against NYCFC in the team’s ninth contest. On top of that, the rest of the Red Bulls have been nothing special, particularly wingers Mike Grella and Lloyd Sam – the latter’s tepid form carrying over from late 2015.

In short, the early season shadow of mediocrity covers more than just BWP.

However, BWP has never exactly been Mr. Automatic; a fact amplified by the lack of production from others which in years past enabled the Red Bulls to weather BWP’s cold streaks. This time around, he doesn’t have the leeway to botch a chance here or there. The Red Bulls are 1-4-0. To right the ship, the striker needs to be automatic when those chances are so few.

Shaun Wright-Phillips or green homegrown player Derrick Etienne aren’t going to improve the wing play. That leaves the striker position as the only potential place for upgrade.

Fortunately for the Red Bulls, they have a Cameroonian international waiting in the wings.

Anatole Abang debuted for Cameroon in all important African Cup of Nations qualifiers and in 2015 led MLS in goals per minute. Yes, it was a small sample size, but nonetheless telling. With the Red Bulls traveling cross country on short rest to face the San Jose Earthquakes, now is the perfect time to pull a switch.

It makes sense to rest an older player anyway, especially one colder than an industrial freezer. Let BWP get his head right with a day off. Depending on how Abang performs, perhaps Jesse Marsch can slot BWP out wide, killing two birds with one stone.

There’s also cause for concern that BWP may not shake this funk like he’s done in years past. At 31, it’s not outside the realm of possibility to imagine his years as a starting striker are at the cusp of decline. Strikers with far glossier résumés have seen their form dip considerably in the third decade of their lives. Perhaps a move to the wing can prolong his impact. Meanwhile, the Red Bulls can get whatever they can out of Abang before Europe makes a more concerted effort to lure him away.

Fans can complain all they want about the Red Bulls susceptibility to the counter, or that their top three centerbacks are out injured. However, none of that overshadows the alarming statistic of zero goals in four out of five matches.

Something has to give. Jesse Marsch needs to shake up the lineup. He should do that this coming Wednesday night and start Anatole Abang. After all, if Mike Petke can sit Thierry Henry, why can’t Marsch do the same with BWP?