March 22, 2017

Schalke’s Haji Wright may be the next American in the Revierderby

At this point, every American soccer fan knows the story of Christian Pulisic. The Hershey, Pennsylvania native came out of virtually nowhere to break in with Borussia Dortmund last season and has solidified his spot with BVB this season.

What most are not aware of is how BVB were able to pluck the young American from obscurity while many others overlooked the slight 18-year-old.

The truth is, they got kind of lucky. While scouting another member of his youth US national team the scouts noticed and signed Pulisic rather than their intended target and the rest is history.

But that may not be the last Dortmund hears of their initial scouting target, Haji Wright. Since the day that Wright was passed over by BVB in favor of Pulisic, the 18-year-old striker has arrived and begun to thrive with Dortmund’s greatest rival; Schalke 04.

A Los Angeles native, and LA Galaxy academy product, Wright moved to Gelsenkirchen to join Schalke in March of 2016 after a brief stint with the New York Cosmos. He immediately slotted into the Royal Blues’ U19 squad and has made a significant impact through the parts of two seasons.

In the 2015/16 campaign, he scored three times in four games for the U19’s. This included a brace in his first game in Germany, a 3-1 win over Mönchengladbach. This season he has picked up where he left off. In 2016/17 he has already tallied six goals and eight assists in 13 games, again with Schalke’s U19 team.

Wright’s form has led Schalke to the top of the Western division of the Junior Bundesliga and more significantly has earned the 6’2″ center forward a spot in training with the first team during Schalke’s winter camp in Spain.

Training with the first team doesn’t guarantee anything, but Wright could provide a scoring touch that has been absent in Gelsenkirchen this season. Injuries to Breel Embolo and Franco Di Santo and the diminishing skills of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar mean there could be an opportunity for the young American.

The strike force for Schalke has been so poor that in their last game of the Hinrunde midfielders Maxi Meyer and Yevhen Konoplyanka started at the top of Markus Weinzierl’s 3-5-2 formation. Among the strikers on 04’s roster, only Embolo has scored more than once this campaign and he only has two goals to his name. Wright could be a spark to ignite an attack that is currently 12th in the Bundesliga in goals scored.

If the prospect of Americans scoring goals on both sides of Germany’s biggest rivalry is not enough for you, there is more to this story.

Starting alongside Wright in Schalke’s U19 team since August has been defensive midfielder Weston McKennie. The Texas native, 18, is a product of the FC Dallas academy.

He starred in Dallas as a member of the finest youth development system America has to offer and has hit the ground running with Schalke.

Although he didn’t make his debut for the U19s until September, McKennie has started nine games and scored twice already this season for Schalke. McKennie has impressed so much at Gelsenkirchen from his position in central midfield that in those nine starts he has led the team out wearing the captain’s armband for four of those matches.

McKennie’s road to the first team is a little more muddled than Wright’s. Schalke has a loaded midfield, with Leon Goretska, Johannes Geis and Nabil Bentaleb all playing in a holding role at times this campaign.

Regardless of when or if the two break into the first team at Schalke, it is encouraging to see the two youngsters succeed at the youth level. The contributions of players like Haji Wright and Weston McKennie shows that the great heights already achieved by Schalke rival Christian Pulisic may not be an exception for American prospects but just the beginning of a great generation of American youth talent.

If they do break in through, the big games between Die Königsblauen and Die Schwartzgelben may have a decided Red, White and Blue feel in the coming years.

S04 Youngsters McKennie and Wright
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A tight knit family from the small Bavarian village of Kirchzell sparked an interest in the Bundesliga and German culture, even though Chris was born half a world away in New Jersey. A video producer and editor by profession, I talk soccer all day and decided to write it down. @ChrisBrase22

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