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LAFC forward Bradley Wright-Phillips is named MLS comeback player of the year

LAFC forward Bradley Wright-Phillips sets up for a play.
LAFC forward Bradley Wright-Phillips has been named the MLS comeback player of the year.
(Phelan M. Ebenhack / Associated Press)

It’s been an interesting 12 months for LAFC forward Bradley Wright-Phillips, a two-time MLS scoring leader who didn’t have a job in December but on Friday was named the league’s comeback player of the year.

“We’re all very excited for Brad,” LAFC coach Bob Bradley said. “He came off a frustrating year with injuries, and from the beginning you could tell was very motivated. He fit in really well with the group and with the way we play.

“The award is recognition of the work that he’s put in and the commitment that he had.”

Last winter, after an injury-hampered season with the New York Red Bulls in which he recorded his fewest starts (nine) and goals (two) since his rookie season, Wright-Phillips was not offered a new contract after seven seasons with the only MLS club for which he had played.

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Despite drawing a scoreless tie with Wales, the USMNT offered a glimpse of a bright future and probably present too.

But LAFC general manager John Thorrington, believing Wright-Phillips had more to give and convinced he would fit in with the team’s playing style, invited him to training camp. When Wright-Phillips proved him right, Thorrington signed him on Valentine’s Day.

Days after signing, Wright-Phillips underwent surgery for a sports hernia and missed the start of the season, delaying his LAFC debut until the MLS Is Back tournament in Florida in July. Filling in for the absent Carlos Vela, he quickly made up for lost time, scoring a goal in each of his first three games.

“What I like here is that it’s a lot more responsibility for me, not just in scoring goals,” Wright-Phillips, who started his professional career with Manchester City in the Premier League, said of LAFC. “I’ve had to think more about positioning. How I receive the ball. How I bring other players into the game.

“I’ve mainly just been looked at as scoring goals. But here it requires a lot more. Your football IQ has to be as sharp every day. I wish I wasn’t as old as I was so I could have had a lot of years under Bob.”

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Wright-Phillips, 35, missed the final two games of the season while dealing with an undisclosed personal matter but finished with eight goals and six assists in 18 appearances, tied for 11th in the league. Three of those goals were game-winners, most on the team.

And while that production was below that of his best five-year stretch with the Red Bulls, when he averaged 21 goals a season and won two Supporters’ Shields, two Golden Boots and made two All-Star teams, it’s not bad for a guy who didn’t have a contract nine months ago.

“A lot of things have happened. Personally, off the field,” said Wright-Phillips, who moved his family to Southern California just as the COVID-19 pandemic was striking. “To at least get an award like this, it’s something I’ve been working hard for. My family’s had to sacrifice.

“It’s good to kind of get a reward at the end. Obviously we want to win MLS Cup as a team. But personally it’s a nice award to get. A lot’s gone into this year.”


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