Less than a month ago, we were greeted with this lovely little message from Schalke sporting director Christian Heidel on Haji Wright.
The talk about U20 town this week was Schalke’s obstinate refusal to release its American players for the U20 World Cup in South Korea later this month. Schalke’s currently home to three, in Nick Taitague, Weston McKennie and Haji Wright, and all three are currently ensconced with the club’s top quality U19 side under legendary German coach Norbert Elgert.
The reason Schalke gave for holding their American players out of the World Cup? They’re currently in the semifinals of the German U19 championship, and they wanted them there. All three are starters. Here’s U20 coach Tab Ramos.
As we already know, Haji Wright is doing things with Schalke’s U19s at the moment. After officially joining the club earlier this year once he hit his 18th birthday, the wispy attacker is already putting in goals against some heady competition. And he’s done it alongside a couple Americans, notably former FC Dallas academy midfielder and U.S. U19 Weston McKennie. He’s expected to finalize his Schalke contract once he turns 18 later this month.
Wright was something of an enigma during the latter part of his tenure with the U17 MNT 2013-15 cycle. Wright popped onto a lot of radars – Schalke’s included – thanks to his Golden Boot performance at the 2013 Nike International Friendlies, a tournament that also helped launch Christian Pulisic to Dortmund.
There’s something of a great migration currently taking place among American youth prospects. Where England was once the de facto point of disembarkation for the best and brightest young Americans looking abroad, Germany’s spent the last two years usurping that title.
For as long as most of us can remember, southwest London club Fulham was the nexus of that English-American fusion. Now it certainly looks as though Schalke is taking that title and running with it.
On Friday, the announcement we’d spied from a distance finally came to pass.
Haji Wright, the electric winger who’d had brief stays with LA Galaxy’s academy team and the New York Cosmos between two years with the U.S. U17 MNT, had officially joined Schalke. A poorly kept secret for more than six months was finally out of the bag for good.
It did not take Wright long to pull on the team’s iconic blue strip. The next day, at 2 p.m. local time on Saturday (6 a.m. on the West Coast), Wright started for Schalke’s second-place U19 side. Fifteen minutes into the match, he scored his first goal. In the 80th minute, he scored his second to cement a 3-1 win over local rival Gladbach. Wright trotted off in the 89th minute to what one would assume was a hearty handshake from coach Norbert Elgert.
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.
The U17s are in Panama for an international tournament, and they opened earlier this week with a resounding 5-2 victory over rising CONCACAF power Costa Rica. The goals on this are pretty saucy, particularly Josh Perez’s left-footed blast to make it 2-0 around a minute in.
Haji Wright, the man of the match, had a hat trick to bring his total tally on the U17 level to 20. The question now becomes where he lands on the pro level. LA Galaxy? Germany? Time will tell.
A goal each from Joe Gallardo and Haji Wright did the trick as the U.S. U17 Men’s National Team won the Aegean Cup thanks to a 2-1 win over Turkey on Saturday.
Check out the highlights from the win. The U17s finished the tournament with a 3-0-1 record to win the eight team competition.