The New York Red Bulls, to paraphrase Rodney Dangerfield, don’t get no respect.
Unbeaten since July 3 and primed to make the playoffs for a seventh straight season, the Red Bulls boast two MVP candidates this season in forward Bradley Wright-Phillips and midfielder Sacha Kljestan. But while Wright-Phillips (leading the league with 20 goals) and Kljestan (an All-Star selection who paces MLS with 16 assists) are bona fide stars, they sure don’t get treated like ones. Especially not from the referees in the league.
Wright-Phillips has been fouled 32 times this season and Kljestan a scant 30 times, ridiculously low numbers in a league that protects its star players. Simple math determines that Wright-Phillips and Kljestan have been fouled a combined 62 times this season. That combined tally isn’t even as much as some of the league’s bigger names who are protected by the referees.
That 62 fouls suffered number is less than FC Dallas’ Mauro Diaz (68 fouls suffered), New York City FC’s David Villa (65 fouls suffered), Toronto FC’s Sebastian Giovionco (63 fouls suffered) and Sporting Kansas City’s Dom Dwyer (63 fouls suffered). It is a staggeringly low number given that Wright-Phillips is a legitimate star, having tied the single-season goal scoring record of 27 goals two seasons ago and is the first player in league history with two seasons of 20 goals. And yet he continues to get dragged down and fouled without so much as a whistle.
“The 12-to-1 foul count in the second half of the Toronto game was alarming. With that said, we don’t look solely at a specific game or situation, we’re looking at data from 30 games this season, and the numbers are staggering,” Red Bulls sporting director Ali Curtis told Metro exclusively.
“We try to measure every event that occurs in our environment and during games so that we can draw conclusions, learn and confirm opinions. I think we have to take a long look and ask why these two players have suffered a significantly less number of fouls than other key players on top teams around the league that play similar roles for their teams and have had similar success."
Kljestan’s return to the United States national team in recent weeks plus his All-Star form should see him get star treatment. Instead, he like Wright-Phillips often fails to get equal treatment or a call.
Consider that Philadelphia Union midfielder Tranquillo Barnetta (60 fouls suffered in 2,103 minutes played) has double the number of whistles called for him as Kljestan in 2,265 minutes played and the discrepancy is clear.