In another life, Schalke’s hotshot American striker Haji Wright might have wound up playing for Borussia Dortmund instead of Christian Pulisic. Confused? Allow bundesliga.com to fill in the blanks…
1) Football in the blood
Los Angeles-born Wright hails from strong sporting stock. His younger brother, Hanif, plays in Germany, for Bonner SC U19s, while cousin, Isaac Nana Addai, represented Boston City and the Tunisia U23s. Two other cousins opted for American football: Joseph Putu played cornerback for the Florida Gators, and Joseph Addai won Super Bowl XLI with the Indianapolis Colts.
2) Coast to coast
Wright spent his formative years with the LA Galaxy, but turned down the club’s offer of a professional contract in order to fulfil his dream of playing in Europe. Instead, he moved to North American Soccer League outfit New York Cosmos, where he felt his continental ambitions would be best served by signing a short-term deal.
3) Dortmund's loss
Despite making just four appearances for the Cosmos, Wright was already on the radar of some of Germany’s biggest clubs. In summer 2014, Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc sent scouts to a youth tournament in Turkey to take a closer look at the then USA U17 forward, only to fall head over heels in love with the talents of teammate Pulisic. "Wright was good, but Pulisic was outstanding," he said.
4) Schalke's gain
Pulisic went on to make his Bundesliga debut for Dortmund in January 2016, but Wright wasn’t too far behind. He rocked up 22 miles down the road with Schalke two months later, despite Pulisic being the club’s primary American target - at least according to former academy manager Oliver Ruhnert. Perhaps he forgot Wright had hit 28 goals in 48 youth internationals…?
5) Inspired by Raul
Wright didn’t confirm if former New York Cosmos teammate Raul influenced his decision to move to Germany, but the legendary Schalke, Real Madrid and Spain No.7 did shape the American’s career in other ways.
"I learnt so much from him at New York," Wright said. "It was the details, like how to get myself into the right positions or how to strike the ball. Not many players have that opportunity. It was a massive advantage for me."
6) Immediate impact
Channeling his inner Raul, Wright scored a brace on his debut for the Schalke U19s in a 3-1 victory over 1. FC Mönchengladbach - his first of three goals in four appearances during the tail-end of the 2015/16 season. The 6'3" forward served up 11 goals and 11 assists the following campaign, numbers which earned him a spot on the first-team roster for the final-day meeting with Ingolstadt.
7) Sandhausen detour
Along with American compatriot Weston McKennie, Wright was invited to train with the Schalke first team over the summer 2017 break. Although McKennie went on to feature prominently under Domenico Tedesco as Die Knappen finished the season in second place behind Bayern Munich, Wright spent the campaign on loan in Bundesliga 2 with Sandhausen, scoring one goal in 15 outings.
8) McKennie's backing
Following the arrival of Mark Uth from Hoffenheim, Wright’s path to the first team was no clearer upon his return to Schalke. He began the 2018/19 season with the U23s in Germany’s fourth division, registering seven goals and three assists in 10 appearances, before making his long-awaited Bundesliga debut as a late substitute in a 5-2 win over Nuremberg on 24 November.
"I believe he did the best he could," McKennie said of Wright’s performance. "He's one of the guys that if you keep pushing, keep giving him confidence, you'll see what type of player he is. Hopefully he'll have more opportunities coming up."
9) Made in the USA
McKennie was right. Big Haji made his first Bundesliga start a week later, playing 70 minutes of Schalke’s 1-1 draw with Hoffenheim. He briefly returned to U23 duty, but ended the year by making three successive appearances for the pros, scoring his maiden Bundesliga goal on his fourth top-flight outing in a losing effort against Bayer Leverkusen. Wright’s milestone strike came by way of a McKennie assist, and was the first time two Americans had combined for a Bundesliga goal since 2004.
10) One for World Cup 2022?
Wright played for the USA at the 2015 U17 World Cup alongside Pulisic and RB Leipzig newcomer Tyler Adams. He found the net 27 times in 34 appearances in that age group, and has since represented the U18s and U19s. He is yet to earn his stars and stripes for the senior team, although new USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter was in attendance when Wright - who comes with the added bonus of being able to play in any position across the attack - made a 45-minute cameo against Augsburg in December 2018.