Wright-Phillips’ incredible run through the New York Red Bulls record books is over after seven season, thought it feels like the influential 35-year-old Englishman was in MLS from its very start. His two-goal season was not a fitting send-off, but he’s out of contract.
RBNY announced Thursday that Wright-Phillips would not returning to the club for the 2020 season, putting an end to a career which included 126 goals and 35 assists across all competitions. He also won two Golden Boot Awards and was twice in the MLS Best XI.
Robles is a club legend, and he’s now a free agent after Red Bulls declined his option.
The thrice-capped USMNT backstop was between the sticks for 281 Red Bulls matches, keeping 89 clean sheets. He was a part of three Supporters’ Shield winners and was named the 2015 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year.
The 35-year-old began his career abroad with German sides Kaiserslautern and Karlsruher before coming to MLS in 2012.
He issued an emotional, grateful goodbye via the club’s web site.
In part two of a two-part Q&A, ProSoccerTalk spoke to Wondo to discuss the how he’s preparing for the upcoming CBA negotiations, what he believes MLS players need in the new deal, a potential MLS-Liga MX merger, and much more.
Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted prior to the San Jose Earthquakes final regular-season game against the Portland Timbers, and was edited for clarity.
ProSoccerTalk: Earlier this season, Luis Robles from New York Red Bulls talked about possibly housing teammates at his house, depending on what happens with the CBA negotiations. How are you preparing, and how are you preparing other teammates to take on this possible period of no work?
Chris Wondolowski: Yeah, I think one just to educate them on all of the details on it, just to make sure that they know what’s going on, but also to plan for it. You always have to be prepared. Whether it’s financially or where you’re going to live or what you’re going to do. You always have to have a plan, so I think that’s the biggest thing. For the last year or two, we’ve been talking to them. You have to save some money – have a little nest egg. So if things don’t go well in the talks, then you’ll still be prepared, still be ready. I’ll definitely do the same as Luis, if the guys need housing or if they need anything, because I’m staying here no matter what. So they’re more than welcome, and I think that’s important for them to understand the whole situation.
Obviously, the situation is worse given the fact that we’re in San Jose, in the Silicon Valley, right? One of the most expensive regions in the world.
Yeah, and that kind of puts some of the guys behind the eight ball. It’s tough especially if you don’t have income coming in. There’s guys who already have 3-4 roommates and, you know, could be sharing rooms just to get by on a normal rent, a normal apartment. So it’s already tough enough as it is and it doesn’t make things easy, but that’s why you have to plan for it and you can’t just react.
From your perspective, what do players need from these CBA negotiations?
I think that the crucial thing is to keep moving the needle so that the players keep progressing and keep taking this league to the next level. And I think what’s important is what play is out there on the field, and so I think that if the player’s rights and the player’s abilities are what’s top priority, then I think that helps the league. I think that these are some of the things that we are really pushing for and that we really want. In years past, it’s been more financial, whether it’s salary cap or minimum coming in or even DP spots. That’s kind of been in the past, whereas this year it’s been more about player’s rights or how things are going in that sense and not necessarily actual numbers this year.
So, how does a player consider it a win? What does a player need exactly? Is it charter flights? Is it eliminating TAM? Maybe it’s not increasing the salary, or maybe it is?
For it to be a win, I don’t think that there’s going to be just one tangible thing where we got this or we didn’t get this so it’s a loss. Again, it’s just moving the needle more for the player and getting more of their rights across the board. It’s many of these things and you mentioned a few of them, whether it is TAM or if it is the salary cap, things of that nature. I think that definitely does help the players, but there are more across the board that the need to progress in.
I mention charter flights because it’s been a topic of conversation all season long. Has there been an instance that you can think back to where you were like, ‘wow this was a logistical nightmare?’
Oh, yeah. We have a few, especially when you’re on the road when we’re going from Salt Lake to New York City, and we’re flying back from the game and we’re in the airport. I remember two years ago we were going to DC, and I think we were at the airport for 8 hours. Flight got delayed and then the flight got cancelled. It was just an absolute logistical nightmare. We were pretty lucky this year with delays and things of that nature. But I know Montreal had a nightmare. I think New England as well, where they’re arriving to the game and it’s tough.
Do you think that charter flights will patch up – not resolve but patch up – the logistical problems in MLS?
I mean, yes. The travel is a big aspect, especially being a West Coast team travelling to the East Coast. That’s a six hour flight, and you’re losing three hours as well. It’s a whole day that’s gone that could help. Let alone you have to get there two hours before your flight and you have to wait for your bags, and so you’re adding another four hours or so – not including the flight or the time change. That could definitely help. Is it financially feasible? That’s a tough one. That’s a tough battle, so I think that I don’t expect every leg to be chartered, but I do hope that there is more and that the owners have to use them. We could’ve use charter flights this year and we’ve used zero, so that’s also something that’s in need. I know there’s other teams that have used all of their legs and wished they could have used more, so you have to find that balance as well.
Yeah, absolutely. I do. You can just look across the board. Again, I think that we do well for ourselves. I think that it’s amazing how well it’s moved. But I think for this league there’s too much of the haves and have nots. We have 28 guys, and I’d say probably only six of the guys do well. And then there’s 22 other guys who have to get another job. As you mentioned, we live in the Silicon Valley, so they have to do something else to supplement themselves so that they can stay afloat. Starting in this league, it’s moved an amazing amount, but I still think that there’s more to move.
How did you financially keep yourself afloat when you were playing in Houston and were making less than $20,000 a year?
My rookie year, I was making $12,500. I had 3 roommates. But I coached more and I was spending more time on the field coaching than I was at practice. That’s never good. Every day I was out coaching. I coached five days a week. Again, I think it helped mold me, but at the same time, I don’t wish it upon a professional athlete to do that.
More and more international players are coming into the league, meaning that the chances of the American player stagnating only increase. There’s fears that the U.S. player might stagnate. Do you agree that for the benefit of MLS players, there should be tougher rules placed on the amount of internationals that can come to this league? On the other hand, some people are talking about blowing up the international rule all together. Do you think that the American player needs to be protected?
Yes, I do. I think that MLS and U.S. Soccer need to coexist and one needs the other one. I think MLS needs U.S. Soccer to do well and to help promote the league, and I think U.S. Soccer needs MLS to do well and to help bring up the next American national team player. I do think it needs to be done. I think that we always want the best product out there. So having foreign players, I’m all for that. But I do think we need to still produce, protect and bring up the next American player. I don’t know what the exact fix is or what the exact number of international players you can [have], but I think that it’s a mistake at times to assume that foreign players are better because they’re from another country. The American player – there’s a great need for them. There’s plenty that can bring a great product out there on the field. So I think we should find that balance. And again, you need both. You can’t just have American players out there. You need the foreign – whatever culture it is – and I think it can help produce that as well.
There’s been a lot of talk about MLS and Liga MX possibly merging. Tournaments like the Leagues Cup are foreshadowing what it can possibly look like in the future. Do you think this is the right move for MLS, to merge with Liga MX?
I’m not sure if merge is the best, but I do think that some of these tournaments [are beneficial] when they’re done the right way. There was a couple glitches in this year’s tournaments that could be ironed out, but I think that it’s a great thing. When we get to face off against each other, whether it’s Champions League or these special tournaments, I think that it’s a great thing and it helps grow MLS, [especially] if they’re playing Mexican side. I think that it helps them learn the game and see a different side of it, so it’s important.
And, by the way, Adama Diomande has 12 goals in 17 matches and David Villa 13 in 22. Not bad.
Midfielders: Miguel Almiron, Ignacio Piatti, and Nicolas Lodeiro have had out of this world campaigns, as has Alphonso Davies. Both Davies and Piatti are unlikely to make the playoffs, and should that matter? Orlando’s Yoshi Yotun and Mohamed El-Munir (a defender) have been amongst the best at their spots, but their team was terrible.
Borek Dockal, Luciano Acosta, Lodeiro, and NYCFC’s Maxi Moralez have 15 assists or more. Sebastian Giovinco and Darwin Quintero are just off the pace despite playing 27 and 26 games on bad teams.
Dockal is averaging an assist in two of three matches this season, and Piatti.
Defenders: This one’s difficult because you need at least three and this league is like the Dutch Eredivisie on steroids (Even that league only had one 20-goal scorer last season).
There’s a bit of cheating in including Sporting KC’s Graham Zusi, the influential right back who also plays advanced at times and also guarantees us an SKC man on the roster. And Matt Besler is a better positional fit, but Zusi feels more necessary.
It feels like either Aaron Long or Tim Parker should represent the Red Bulls, and Walker Zimmerman has reclaimed his elite form with LAFC.
Goalkeepers: Tim Melia and Luis Robles both pace the league in clean sheets with 13, while Andre Blake of Philadelphia and Evan Bush have thrived on… less impressive units. Bush has faced 181 shots, more than all but one goalkeeper, and has made a league-high 130 saves in keeping Montreal alive.
Conclusion: Look, we’re going to have to try and outscore the other team now, aren’t we? And we’re going to lose. But it’s going to be fun.
I’ve got it down to 10 players, only repeating two teams (Red Bulls and Atlanta).
There’s no one from Dallas, who deserves a man, nor NYCFC. Plus we’ve got two players who could miss the playoffs in Zlatan and Piatti, but it’s crazy not to include them. It just is.
So who gets our 11th slot? A stable center mid? Vela to make it a 3-4-3 and a third team with two slots?
Toronto FC hasn’t seen many breaks go their way this season. So, when trailing the NY Red Bulls 1-0 at home with 12 minutes to go, a VAR review awarded Toronto a questionable penalty, it looked like their luck might finally be turning.
Sebastian Giovinco stepped up to the spot in the 78th minute with a chance to draw level, and watched helplessly as his decent effort was acrobatically saved by Luis Robles.
Despite 13 shots on goal, including eight on target, Toronto slumped to its second straight defeat thanks to Alex Bono’s early mistake, with Giovinco unable to rescue a result late. A speculative effort in the 4th minute from Kemar Lawrence squirted past Bono after fumbling the save, and that was all the NY Red Bulls needed to pick up all three points.
New York didn’t look terribly comfortable for much of the second half, and Toronto threatened on numerous occasions. Jordon Hamilton tried to chip Robles just a few minutes after the break, and Giovinco nearly played Jonathan Osorio in on the hour mark, but neither chance came off. Finally, with 12 minutes remaining, their chance came. On a scramble in the box, Red Bulls defender Tim Parker fell next to the ball, and replay showed he pushed the ball away with his right hand. It wasn’t initially given, but VAR spotted the slight touch, and a penalty was awarded, which Giovinco hit to his left and Robles guessed right, diving and parrying the effort away.
For all the Italian has done with Toronto, Giovinco has struggled from the spot his entire MLS career, and yet Greg Vanney keeps shuffling him out there. Giovinco has missed three of his five penalties this season alone, and last year he missed two of three.
The loss drops Toronto all the way to 10th in the East on just 15 points after 16 matches, eight points behind a playoff spot. RBNY, meanwhile, jumps to second in the Eastern Conference with 32 points, five points back of Atlanta United with two fewer games played.
Robles and the New York Red Bulls will head south to take on MLS and Eastern Conference leaders Atlanta United this weekend, however, a minor knee injury will leave the shot-stopper out of the match at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Robles has started 183 consecutive MLS matches, a league record that dates back to September 2012.
With the 34-year-old ruled out for a potential 184th straight start, manager Jesse Marsch will turn to Ryan Meara, the long-time Red Bulls backup.
Meara has made just one league start since losing his starting role to Robles in 2012, however, that appearance came in 2015 when the Fordham University product was on loan at New York City FC.