Attracting the sixth-best Major League Soccer goal scorer of all-time to what’s expected to be a backup role should be a difficult task for any team competing in the league. However, if that team just lifted the MLS Cup less than two months ago and has the right pieces in place, including players, coaching staff and infrastructure, to do so again next season, things might get a little easier.
That’s exactly how the Columbus Crew lured veteran striker Bradley Wright-Philips, a two-time Golden Boot winner, MLS All-Star and MLS Best XI member, to Central Ohio ahead of the 2021 season.
A free agent after a season in which he scored eight goals in 18 matches with LAFC and took home the league’s Comeback Player of the Year award, the 35-year-old forward most likely had a myriad of offers sent his way after a prolific campaign in Los Angeles. But it wasn’t really difficult for him to decide which one he was willing to take.
“After the season the guys had last year, you can’t really say no to a team like this when they’re coming in and inquiring about you,” Wright-Phillips said in a video interview with Crew’s TV analyst Jordan Angeli on the team’s website. “And Caleb (Porter) has a lot to do with it, he’s very persuasive. He speaks well and his pedigree is up there with the best. It wasn’t a tough decision.”
Porter was accompanied by team president and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko in a video call with BWP and his agent when the Black & Gold decided to formalize their interest and make an offer to sign the Englishman. It was, however, the work done prior to that meeting, putting together the comprehensive presentation, that won Wright-Phillips over and pushed him to make his mind about coming to Columbus.
“The first video call we had, the way they set it up and the way they presented it…,” the player recalled. “There was a little video with me and showing Columbus, the club and everything about it, where they’re looking to go and where they are now. I had just left LA and I’m seeing a video with some of my highlights, it was amazing. I’ve never had a presentation like that before, so thumbs up to whoever put that together because that was quality.”
As good as it was, the presentation alone wasn’t enough to seduce one of the most coveted free agents available to a small market club. Wrights-Phillips had other boxes to check on his new team’s wish list and the head coach category provided the Crew with another. advantage.
Even though the striker and Porter have never worked together outside of the 2014 MLS All-Star Game, the meeting offered some reassurance that Columbus’ head coach was exactly what the veteran was looking for at this stage of his career.
“He told me he’s a fan of mine and explained how he sees me and how I could fit in the team and with the other players,” Wright-Phillips explained. “I’ve played against Columbus over the years and I’ve played against Caleb’s teams and I like the attractive style of football they play. The ball is always on the ground, there’s high tempo and they want to get the ball back quickly and they do it consistently, which is not easy. And the creative players they have are fun to watch.”
As a striker with 116 goals scored in his MLS career and someone who scored in double digits in five of his seven seasons in the league, Wright-Phillips has no interest in slowing down or seeing his numbers drop in 2021.
While the Crew’s 36 regular season goals in 2020 didn’t rank among the best in the league, the team had a strong offensive performance in the MLS Cup playoffs, registering nine goals in four matches. Also, the last time the Black & Gold saw their striker score less than 10 goals in a season was back in 2014.
“Every striker wants to be on a team that creates chances,” he remarked. “It doesn’t matter how old or how young you are. If you are on your game and if you’re preparing right, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t score with that kind of service and that kind of players around you. It’s exciting. I love scoring and I want to be on the end of a few of those chances.”
Wright-Phillips has already written numerous memorable chapters in his MLS career, but in 2021 he’ll have the privilege of being part of the Crew roster in what is expected to be a special season for the club. This summer, the Black & Gold will open it’s brand new, state-of-the-art stadium in downtown Columbus and a new training facility at the grounds of MAPFRE Stadium and return to the CONCACAF Champions League.
The veteran doesn’t take it for granted and wants to help the team achieving big things in the upcoming season.
“I’m excited to see the new stadium when it’s built. I’m excited to see the training ground,” Wright-Phillips said. “I just want to get there and meet everyone and start working. With the players we already have, it was a no-brainer to try and fit it with the boys and try to win another MLS Cup and the Open Cup and the Champions League. Whatever it is, we’ll just try to win.”