It happened a bit earlier than we expected, perhaps, but Haji Wright is finally on the final leg of his “Cosmos contract.”
In August, just months after Wright signed for the Cosmos as a 17-year-old, I fronted a harebrained idea. Could the Comsos be a front for what Wright really wanted? Did the precocious teen merely sign for the Cosmos in order to avoid the legal tangle involved in hopping in bed with MLS as a young player?
Here was my theory five months ago.
Let’s say Schalke liked Wright. Let’s say they wanted Wright, but transfer rules prevented him from transferring. Without an EU passport, he’s chained to the U.S. until his 18th birthday, on March 27, 2016. In the meantime, Schalke knows someone in America. Someone who played 66 matches for the club over two years. Someone who oversees youth development at a professional club. Someone named Raul.
Now, let’s say a backroom, under-the-table agreement was struck. Let’s say the Cosmos agreed with Schalke’s notion to sign Wright to keep him away from MLS’s more restrictive allocation rule set, to keep him from signing a deal that’d preclude him from moving to Europe. And let’s say the Cosmos went along with the gambit, upping their cachet among younger players while keeping Wright warm for an eventual (and legal) move to Europe after his 18th birthday. The U17 World Cup is a feeding ground for top clubs, which use the showcase to pull in players for their academies they might’ve missed. It’s the academy version of the World Cup. The flurry of transfers in the months afterward is notable.
So it isn’t outlandish that Schalke could be watching the U17 World Cup later this year with baited attention. And if he moves to Europe after his 18th birthday? Don’t say you’ll be surprised.
It happened this week. Haji Wright is going to Germany.
I say it happened earlier than we expected because Wright does not turn 18 until March 27, which was part of the problem in the first place. He couldn’t obtain an EU passport during his first stint there at the end of 2014 at 16, forcing him back to the U.S. and eventually into the waiting arms of the Cosmos.
Wright played a grand total of 80 minutes for the Cosmos first team in 2015, relegated mostly to the B team in the NPSL. Looking back on the arrangement now, we can all but confirm the agreement to join the Cosmos for the year did nothing but keep him warm for Germany, to say nothing of the fee the Cosmos are likely to pocket for owning his rights for all of nine months. Whether Gio Savarese felt reticent starting a young player he knew would not be on the team in a few months, or whether he felt Wright simply wasn’t up to the standard, we may never know.
According to Metro’s source, Wright and Schalke have an arrangement worked out so he’ll get started as soon as he turns 18. Tellingly, he was “released” from his contract with the Cosmos in December after nine months. Just in time to sign for Schalke.
This was all a badly disguised ruse from the start that reflects a pale, shaded light on the entire proceeding. In Wright’s case, there was no particularly problematic will. He merely wanted to obtain Europe. The Cosmos, though, traded on the cachet brought by Wright’s signing and used the pairing with the signing of fellow U17 MNT player Alexis Velela to make it seem as though its academy was making a stab at the long haul. At least in this case, it never was.
When paired with whatever Raul’s brief role as the head of the academy was, the Cosmos still feel as though they are scrambling for relevancy through any means necessary. We all knew Wright was using the Cosmos, who then used him. An arrangement of mutual convenience, maybe, but in the end it would seem neither party got all that much out of one another. Wright got Europe, and the Cosmos engendered a relationship (maybe), but did Wright really improve as a player in the NPSL? And did the Cosmos really do anything for themselves here?
In any case, Wright is now a free man. While the physical side of his game is excellent – he is a terrifying marker in space – the technical side needs refinement, which should be Schalke’s ultimate role in his development. If he can tie off those two ends, we could be looking at a real live American winger. Be still, my fluttering heart.
That’s a good thing, even if his time with the Cosmos ultimately looked more like a fly-over than a substantive pit stop.