For the second time in three years, Bradley Wright-Phillips has won MLS’s Golden Boot.
The prolific 31-year-old New York Red Bulls striker clinched the honor Sunday, the final day of the regular season, with a clever 26th-minute goal against the Philadelphia Union that took his 2016 league tally to 24.
Wright-Phillips came into the day leading New York City FC’s David Villa 23 goals to 22 at the top of MLS’s scoring charts. Villa scored late in NYCFC’s 4-1 win over Columbus Crew SC, but Wright-Phillips was able to claim the award by the one-goal margin.
It’s Wright-Phillips’ second Golden Boot since coming to the Red Bulls from Charlton Athletic in July of 2013. He won his first with an MLS record-tying 27 goals in 2014, his first full year in the league.
Wright-Phillips becomes the fifth player in MLS’s 21-year history to lead the league in goals on more than one occasion. Preki was the first to do so with the Kansas City Wizards in 1997 and 2003. Taylor Twellman was the second with the New England Revolution in 2002 and 2005. Jeff Cunningham (2006 and 2009) and Chris Wondolowski (2010 and 2012) also won the Golden Boot twice.
Wright-Phillips took this year’s crown despite not converting a single penalty kick to supplement his tally. The Red Bulls’ striker missed his only attempt from the spot, on April 10 against Sporting Kansas City.
That penalty miss was emblematic of Wright-Phillips’ early season shortcomings. He failed to find the back of the net through the season’s first seven games as the Red Bulls stumbled to six defeats. But he bagged a second-half brace in a 3-2 win over Orlando City in April to open his account. He then scored five over an eight-day stretch in May—two in a 7-0 derby victory over NYCFC at Yankee Stadium, and a hat trick the following weekend against Toronto.
Wright-Phillips and Villa matched each other goal for goal over the season’s final weeks. Villa tallied twice each in late-September wins over Chicago and Houston. The Spaniard then brought his total to 22 with a consolation goal from the spot in a 3-1 loss at D.C. United. But Wright-Phillips’ two second-half strikes against Columbus propelled him into the lead with 23 heading into Decision Day.
Villa certainly had his chances to pull even with Wright-Phillips. He created a goal for Steven Mendoza Sunday to put NYCFC up 1-0 at halftime and was also desperately unlucky to not make the race a little more interesting, hitting both posts with this effort:
Wright-Phillips has been an integral part of a Red Bulls team that beat the Union 2-0 Sunday and topped the Eastern Conference on 57 points. They’ll open the playoffs next Sunday in the conference semifinals, where Wright-Phillips will look to add to his record of six goals in 10 playoff appearances.
In three-and-a-half years, Bradley, the son of Arsenal legend Ian Wright and younger brother of former England international Shaun Wright-Phillips, has now scored a total of 75 goals in 117 MLS appearances.