Wright-Phillips sparks memories of Thierry Henry in Red Bull win

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

HARRISON – Splitting a pair of defenders with a deft touch and juggle off of a 40 yard pass into the area and striking the ball home with a whiplash turn of the hips, converting a Hail Mary situation into the New York Red Bulls’ go-ahead goal.

Were this 2014, fingering the culprit of such an impressive feet would be simple.  Just take a look at the opposing goal post and there you would find a surly Thierry Henry leaning on the woodwork, “celebrating” his magic.

This weekend at Red Bull Arena, Henry was nowhere in sight — but his magic lived on in protege Bradley Wright-Phillips.

After a quiet start to the season against Sporting KC two weeks prior, Wright-Phillips dazzled in his home debut, taking a page out of his mentor’s book with a bit of magic to push the Red Bulls past DC United.

“He is looking like Thierry,” friend and teammate Lloyd Sam said after the match.  “He didnt want his name said in the same [sentence] but he set up three great chances for me and done well.”

Against Kansas City, Wright-Phillips played a strictly central role, which often kept him at the mercy of his wing service.  With Sam and Grella struggling to find him the ball, Wright-Phillips became an afterthought.

This week in Harrison saw a different Wright-Phillips.  With tweaks to his offensive game guided by Jesse Marsch, the English striker showed several different dimensions against DC — some Henryesque.  He dropped into midfield to connect the attack.  He used his speed on the flanks to open up DC’s defense.  He gave up route-1 football for a more dynamic role that resulted ultimately in a goal, an assist — and a vital win against their league rivals.

“With all the players, we’re trying to get them to rotate and move in ways so that they’re not just standing next to defenders the whole game,” Marsch said.  “For Bradley, the combination of coming deep, going wide sometimes, working off of defenders’ shoulders, and then making slashing runs and being in front of the goal so that he can be available to finish plays.

“Bradley’s going to score goals. Is he going to get to 27? That’s a big number to get to. I know he’s going to score goals and the team’s going to be able to score goals.”

Yes, Henry’s presence was felt this weekend at Red Bull Arena.  Wright-Phillips made sure of that — even if he doesn’t want to acknowledge the comparison.

“Don’t even mention my name next to his,” he said after the match. “He is [on another level].”

Nevertheless, those comparisons will live on all season, so long as Wright-Phillips keeps playing well … and keeps scoring goals.