MLS Exports – The English Battle for New York

 • by Andrew Gibney
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Continuing Football Whispers look at the current exports that have made a career out of their move to Major League Soccer, we travel to the city that never sleeps.

It will shock Tottenham Hotspur fans how Giovani dos Santos fared this season, scoring 15 times as the LA Galaxy made it to MLS’s Conference Semi-Finals. However, that only puts him eighth on the MLS scoring charts. It may come as a huge surprise to learn who is top. 

Back in 2012, Bradley Wright-Phillips scored 22 times for Charlton Athletic as they finished top of League One. He was outgunned by Jordan Rhodes 35 goals and the 29 scored by Ched Evans, but a wonderful return none the less. Fast forward four years and the English striker spent the season head-to-head with a World Cup winning forward to finish as MLS top marksman.

New York City’s David Villa, the first marquee signing for club, found the net 23 times as NYCFC lost 7-0 to Toronto FC in the play-offs. Yet, Bradley, who couldn’t stop Villa’s rivals, New York Red Bull, falling at the same hurdle, scored twice more, ending the season on 25. No, you have not been teleported to an alternate universe.

What makes it more interesting is the fate of his brother Shaun. Both play for the club based in Jersey, but it’s Bradley that is the star of the team. Shaun is four years old, so obviously nearer the end of his career, but no one would have predicted when the winger was in the Premier League and his brother in the lower leagues that it would be the forward that would go on to become a star in America.

Wright-Phillips versus Villa is a battle no one would ever have dreamed of, the only sort of thing that happens when you create your own player on FIFA Be a Pro. However, it couldn’t stop their clubs losing out on a place in the league’s final four.

The kid from Lewisham joined Red Bull in 2013 and is now the club’s all-time leading goal-scorer with 76 goals. That puts him ahead of Juan Pablo Angel, Thierry Henry and Clint Mathis.

“Not taking anything away from Thierry (Henry),” said Red Bull head coach Jesse Marsch. “Brad’s now emerging as the best Red Bull player that’s ever played here. He’s the complete package. I don’t really know if there’s a book on how to deal with him. That’s what makes him so unique. He’s got bits of Landon Donovan in him but he’s a bit stronger and bigger.”

His poor older brother can only find a role on the bench, Shaun hasn’t featured since he came on for one minute against New York City in July. However, he does get to live with his brother in one of the greatest cities in the world. It’s a hard life.

Lampard’s Turnaround

Across the Big Apple, there are two Englishman playing for NYCFC that have taken much different routes on their way to MLS. Playing under Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira, Frank Lampard jumped across the pond after 13 years with Chelsea, leaving as the club’s all-time leading goalscorer and one of the greatest midfielders to ever play in the Premier League.

He joined the US club on a bad note, there was confusion and controversy around his arrival and it looked like the club had used his signing as a ploy to sell season tickets. Lampard would sign for Manchester City and although the move was announced in July 2014, he didn’t make his MLS debut until the 1st of August 2015 – after 38 games with the Manchester club.

Lampard’s first season wasn’t great…poor would be a more accurate term. He managed just 10 games, scoring three goals. It looked like the current campaign was going to go the same way, missing the first 12 weeks with a calf injury. He returned to Chelsea to find fitness and a goal against Philadelphia Union in a 3-2 win in June, seems to have been the catalyst for his resurgence.

From zero to hero, the turnaround was complete when Lampard scored a hat-trick in a 5-1 win over Colorado, firing the triple past former Everton ‘keeper Tim Howard. The first two goals were classic Lampard, well-timed runs from midfield, finding the gaps in the defence and finishing the way he always has. The 36-year-old has gone from being labelled as the ‘worst signing in MLS history’ to being nominated for the ‘Comeback Player of the Year’ honour.

Young Englishman in New York

Assisting Lamps for his second goal that day was Jack Harrison, and like his teammate, the Englishman has been also been nominated for an award. The 19-year-old, born in Stoke-on-Trent, is in the running to be named as MLS Rookie of the Year. With four goals and six assists, it’s a wonder why, at his age, he is playing his trade across the ocean.

Growing up in Bolton, he spent seven years in the academy system at Manchester United, but his mum moved him to the States to attend Berkshire School in Massachusetts when he was 14. He would play football for Wake Forest University and then in 2016, as the youngest available player, he was the 1st overall pick in the MLS Superdraft – where the best college kids are assigned to a team – by Chicago Fire.

“Having someone of [Vieira’s] pedigree coach me is amazing, as is having players like David, Andrea and Frank to give me advice and support me,” Harrison told Bleacher Report. “Everyone is really coming together, and they have been a massive help. I just try and absorb as much as possible, and just by watching them you pick up things. It’s great to have them about.”

“They are down-to-earth and don’t think they are better than anyone else.”

Harrison was traded to NYCFC and became the first teenager to score for the club when he opened his account against Real Salt Lake on 2nd June. We are so used to older players playing the twilight years of their career in the States, it will be interesting to watch how Harrison develops in NYC, and if any English clubs take notice, will he be tempted to move back to the UK.

From Birmingham to the White House

America’s North West has a huge footballing history, with Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers having one of the fiercest rivalries in MLS. Birmingham City fans will be interested to know that Liam Ridgewell is the current captain of the latter and although suffering a couple of injuries, he made 22 appearances this campaign.

The Timbers couldn’t follow up their 2015 success, winning the MLS Cup, finishing seventh in the Western Conference, but the Englishman has become a leader at Providence Park since arriving in 2014. He even got to meet President Obama this year, part of the tradition for the cup winners, slightly topping his success against Arsenal in the English League Cup.

“I don’t think there has ever been a Ridgewell in the White House before so something has gone wrong!” The former Blues man told press. “The League Cup was massive because it was against Arsenal but being captain and winning the MLS Cup against all the odds, creating history for the club is probably topping it.”

Many players still pick the USA as a place to go at the end of their career, there’s no denying that, however, it is still a growing league and there are many examples, from Ridgewell to Harrison, that there is a chance for players who don’t quite find their feet in England, to jump across and try their luck and perhaps live the American dream.