Haji Wright Finding Success At Bundesliga's FC Schalke

Wright scored his first goal with the club on Wednesday
Published Dec 20, 2018
Photo credit: FC Schalke
Whatever success Haji Wright will have with FC Schalke 04 in the Bundesliga or any other European team, for that matter, certainly hasn't surprised anyone who had seen him train and play with the New York Cosmos.
That includes his former head coach Giovanni Savarese and midfielder Andrs Florés
In only his second start and fourth appearance with the German club, the 20-year-old forward-winger scored his first Bundesliga goal on Wednesday, Dec. 19, in Schalke's 2-1 home loss to Bayer Leverkusen.
Savarese, who directed the Portland Timbers to the MLS Cup Final in his first year as coach of the Major League Soccer side in 2018, felt Wright was at the right place at the right time as many young American soccer players have ventured to Germany to develop and further their careers.
"I think always when you see players being able to challenge themselves in different markets, especially in Germany, an interesting league for young Americans to play," he said. "There is a belief in Germany in the American player and I think that its been great to see so many good young players being able to go to Germany in the Bundesliga. Haji Wright, he's definitely a talented player. During the time he was with us, he was able to show he was a talented player.
"For him to have moved to Germany and to continue to play and to continue to develop and to continue to follow those steps, it has been fantastic. He's is an excellent person, a kid that I think who grew up with good values. There was no question that he was going to adapt quickly."
Wright made his first-team debut when he was brought on for Steven Skrzybski in the 88th minute of the 5-2 win against 1. FC Nürnberg on Nov. 24. Wright has made three appearances for the German side, including a full halftime stint in a 1-1 road draw with Augsburg.
That happened in the presence of new U.S. national coach Gregg Berhalter, on a scouting mission to Europe, who watched Wright even put the ball in the back of the net in the 84th minute, but the goal was ruled to be offside.
On Wednesday, Wright made the most of his second start, scoring in the second minute of second-half stoppage time.
Fellow American Weston McKennie headed Bastian Oczipka's corner kick downward from eight yards. Wright had position in front of his marker, stuck out his right foot and redirected the ball past goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky from four yards.

Despite his late scoring heroics, Wright was surprised Schalke did not earn at least a draw.

"We played really well," he said. "I think in the first half we pressed them well.

"We were very tough to get by and offensively we created a lot of crosses, got a lot of crosses in. I'm honestly astounded how we lost the game. Props to them, they scored their two goals. But we're very disappointed to lose this game."

The 6-3, 176-lb. Wright comes from an athletic family. His brother Hani played for Bonner SC in the German fourth division. His cousin Isaac Addai played for Boston City FC in the National Premier Soccer League as another cousin, Joseph Addai, is former NFL running back who won the Super Bowl XLI with the Indianapolis Colts.
He played with Christian Pulisic and Tyler Adams for the U.S. during the Under-17 World Cup in 2015 after he had signed with the Cosmos that March as a 17-year-old with several MLS clubs vying for him. Wright played in three North American Soccer League matches and 80 minutes. During a loan stint with Cosmos B, Wright found his form and then some, striking for five goals in four appearances.
"The year he was with us, it was a good year for him to grow a little bit more," Savarese said.
While Wright did not get as much playing time with the Cosmos as he would have preferred, the Los Angeles native turned heads during training.
"The thing that impressed me the most was his acceleration with the ball," Savarese said. "When he turned on the engine, he has a special speed that with sometimes with craftiness with the ball he was able to go by players and become a threat. So, definitely, definitely, that's his big attribute. His speed, his size, his athleticism, and that was one thing that was very noticeable from the beginning when he was training with us, going by players when he was accelerating with the ball."
Flores remembered when Wright joined the team in 2015.
"He was very quiet, he was a hard-working player and very young, too," he said. "We all noticed he was going to be a very good player. His quality and his technique is amazing."
In 2016, Wright found his way to Schalke. He had tried out there in 2014.
"I've worked my whole life to become a professional footballer," he said at the time. "It's my dream to make the breakthrough at Schalke."
Schalke coaches have liked what they saw.
“I always describe Haji as a bag of surprises," Schalke U-19 coach Norbert Elbert said. "He doesn’t have consistency in his game yet, but he has a lot of pace on and off the ball, no weaker foot, his dribbling is good, and he is a threat on goal. He brings a lot to the table that makes a good striker.”
How good he can be in the Bundesliga might take a while because it could take some time before Wright becomes a regular for Schalke. Savarese, however, felt the attacking player had the ingredients to make an impact.
Still, the future has looked bright for him.
"I think so," Savarese said. "He has the talent for it. But like any other young American, it's important the work ethic stays there, the continuity is there so they can continue their development in order for them to reach their potential, and I think that's a very important part for him.
"I'm just very content he has been able to continue to succeed in a very difficult market like Germany.
On Wednesday, Wright took a giant step in the right direction.