The Bundesliga is currently the land of opportunity for youngsters. Clubs in the German top flight, no matter what their current predicament is, aren’t afraid to give youth a chance in their starting XIs.
The 20-year-old forward already has a goal to his name for Schalke 04. He showed his poacher's instincts to poke home a chance from close range against Bayer Leverkusen recently and he's enjoyed a bright start for Die Königsblauen, but there’s still much more to come from him.
In the latest instalment of our Rising Stars series, we've taken a closer look at the versatile attacker to discover what kind of player the US Men's National Team have on their hands.
Who is Haji Wright?
LA-born Wright always had aspirations of playing in Europe. LA Galaxy offered him a long-term deal but he oped to move to NY Cosmos on a short-term contract in 2015. Bundesliga.com revealed the player thought the deal with NY Cosmos, considered a risk by many, helped with his ambition to move to Europe as it gave him more freedom.
After just over a year with the New York outfit – he made four appearances – Wright moved to Schalke. He made his debut for the under-19 side the same month and scored twice on his debut.
It could have been very different for the forward. In the summer of 2014, Borussia Dortmund sent scouts to watch Wright playing in a youth tournament in Turkey. However, a team-mate of his ended up stealing the show. A certain Christian Pulisic.
Michael Zorc, Borussia Dortmund’s Sporting Director, liked Wright. But he couldn’t look beyond Pulisic. "Wright was good, but Pulisic was outstanding," he later admitted.
Die Knappen had seen enough. They were convinced and brought him to the club in April 2016. After impressing in the second team, Wright, along with compatriot McKennie, trained with the first team ahead of the 2017/18 season.
While McKennie went to be a regular, Wright was loaned to 2.Bundesliga side Sandhausen. He appeared 15 times and scored once. It may not have been productive in terms of goals but the exposure to first-team soccer helped his development.
On November 24, 2018, Wright made his first-team debut for Schalke. Just shy of four weeks later he scored his first goal for the club. McKennie assisted him meaning it was the first time since 2004 that two Americans had combined for a goal in the Bundesliga.
Standing at 6ft 3ins (1.90m), Wright looks like a stereotypical target man and while he is good in the air, he’s much better with the ball at his feet. In limited minutes so far this season he’s averaged 3.2 dribbles per 90 minutes, completing 1.8.
Due to the fact he’s not played that often for Schalke yet it’s difficult to really read into his stats. Having said that, you can paint a bit of a picture of him using what is currently available.
His link-up play is there, completing 70 per cent of the 14 passes on a per-90 basis. He’s averaged 0.52 key passes while touching the ball 4.62 times in the opposition’s penalty area. He’s not shooting as often, 1.62, but perhaps that comes with confidence and as a new guy in the team he isn’t going to want to waste possession.
An impressive stat is the 1.54 tackles he’s currently averaging. It shows he’s a grafter off of the ball and will suit the modern demands of strikers who are expected to lead the press.
All in all, he appears to be a well-rounded forward who is capable of playing several roles in the final third. He could lead the line on his own and he can play alongside a partner. Play the ball to feet, in the air or into the channels and he’ll make it work.
There’s explosive pace there over short distances which helps him create space out of nothing. However, the most interesting aspect of Wright’s skill set is his ability to use either foot.
There are elite players in the world today who are one-footed. Show them onto their weaker foot and they’re nullified. The 20-year-old doesn’t have this problem.
His two goals for Sandhausen – the second coming in a friendly – were calm right-footed finishes inside the penalty area. For someone so young he is remarkably relaxed when in front of goal and his finishes are basically passes into the corners.
His goal for the Schalke first-team was a right-footed instinctive effort. And then you see his strike against FC Bayern while playing for the under-19s. He picked the ball up on the edge of the area and lashed home a thunderous effort into the top corner using his left foot. But in true Wright form, he did so as casually as you like.
International - USMNT
Wright is yet to appear for the USMNT at senior level but he has played for the under-15s, under-17s, under-18s and under-19s. At every single level he’s scored goals. His most productive period came while playing for the under-17s when he netted 27 times in 34 matches.
If he can build on his playing minutes for Schalke this season then coach Gregg Berhalter will no doubt include him in his squads to rival Josh Sargent. If Wright can strike up an understanding with McKennie at club level then that may give him the edge over others at International level.
"He's a dynamic and extremely dangerous striker and is also very ambitious. He's going to bring us a lot of joy in Schalke over the coming years." – Former Schalke sporting director Horst Heldt upon signing Wright in 2016
Wright’s unpredictability, the fact he’s able to use both feet and has an array of finishes in his locker, means he is very dangerous. If Schalke put faith in him and ride the good with the bad then he could be a 20-goal per season striker in the Bundesliga.
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