Matthew Hoppe has gone from unknown American youth player to a goal-scoring U.S. international in the space of six months. All that during and thanks to one of the most difficult seasons in the long and illustrious history of his former club, Schalke.
The USMNT striker burst onto the scene in Germany's top-flight during the 2020/21 season with the Royal Blues and has now departed for Real Mallorca in Spain after two years in Gelsenkirchen.
Casual fans of the Bundesliga from across the Pond may not have even been aware that Hoppe had moved from the sunny west coast state of California in the summer of 2019 to join one of European football's most respected and revered academies at Schalke.
Hoppe, born in March 2001, played at the Barca Residency Academy USA in the Development Academy Southwest Division prior to moving to the Royal Blues. There, he was moved from midfield into attack after his coaches spied his natural goalscoring ability.
"I think it was something that came naturally to me because I would get a lot of goals growing up and I think I was normally one of the better players on my team," Hoppe said. "When I went out to the Barca academy with Sean McCafferty, I was actually playing midfield, kind of like a No.8 or No.10 position, and then he made me go in at striker.
"I kept saying 'Put me back in midfield' but he said I had that natural scoring instinct. I played two seasons there, my first two seasons as a striker, and I was the top scorer in the nation, so I think I had the instinct. Ever since then, I've been able to come here and then develop it. And recently I was able to show it to the world, so that’s a special thing for me."
Watch: Meeting Matthew Hoppe!
Prior to moving to the Royal Blues, Hoppe struck 29 goals in 23 matches in 2018/19, helping his side finish top of the league with a +36-goal difference. Among that haul were two hat-tricks scored on one weekend in March 2019 - two of five trebles he registered over the course of the campaign. He's no one-season wonder either: the previous year he scored 24 times in 30 games for the U17s.
Having scored six goals across 36 appearances, Hoppe was called up to the Schalke first team for the first time at the end of November 2020. The call up came with the Royal Blues winless from the first eight games of the season, and without three strikers which had started the season for the club in Goncalo Paciencia, Vedad Ibisevic and Ahmed Kutucu. He started and completed 81 minutes for the Royal Blues in what ended as a 4-1 defeat at Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Further substitute appearances followed with Hoppe's relentless work rate in attack inspiring a struggling side. And sure enough, in only his second-ever start in professional football, Hoppe announced himself not only to the Bundesliga but the hordes of fans scrambling to their TVs back home in the States as their phones pinged with notifications.
Against Hoffenheim, after 14 league games without a win, Hoppe single-handedly dismantled the Sinsheimers with a superbly taken hat-trick - becoming the first and only American to do so in the Bundesliga - which Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski would have been proud of. In a 4-0 win, Hoppe was the man of the hour and, as expected, couldn't actually explain what he had done just after the match had come to an end.
"I don't know how to feel," Hoppe told bundesliga.com. "I'm excited, I'm happy that the team got the win and that I was able to contribute to it. It gives some confidence, it gives some momentum. Hopefully, we can keep the wins coming and we can stay high in the first division."
Watch: Hoppe's Hoffenheim hat-trick
Hoppe proved once again - as he did in his first days as a striker back in the States - that he was no one-hit-wonder as he went on to score in Schalke's next two Bundesliga games against Eintracht Frankfurt and Cologne, as well as starting in their next 11 games. The unknown American had become the last hope for survival in a dwindling season for Schalke, but even Hoppe could not save his side.
The Royal Blues won twice more in 2020/21, with Hoppe providing a goal and assist in the victory over Frankfurt on the penultimate day of the season. But despite relegation, Hoppe had established himself as a shining talent for US fans and USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter to take particular interest in.
Sure enough, Hoppe was called up for his country to play in the summer's Gold Cup tournament. The 20-year-old assisted once in his first start before scoring in his second and making four starts in total as the US went on to beat Mexico in extra-time to clinch the title - with Hoppe playing all 120 minutes.
After establishing himself in the Bundesliga and for his country, Hoppe made the decision to leave Schalke on the final day of the 2021 summer transfer window to join Mallorca in La Liga. And the Californian did not forget to thank the club who gave him the chance to make it in the big leagues of Europe.
"I came here two years ago as an 18-year-old from American, and I have been able to grow into the person I am today through what I learned during my time here," Hoppe wrote in a statement on social media. "To the best fans in the world and great people of Gelsenkirchen, I say thank you for your constant support and for putting your faith in a young man from California. You will forever be in my heart."
And who knows, if Schalke are to one day return to the Bundesliga, maybe Hoppe will come back to prove he is no one-hit-wonder.