Haji Wright: From ‘fever dream’ World Cup goal for USA to Coventry

5 December 2023 0 By Total Football News

Around this time last year, Haji Wright would have been sat on a plane experiencing somewhat mixed emotions.

On the one hand, the USA had just been knocked out of the World Cup at the last-16 stage. One the other, he had scored in the defeat, on the biggest stage of all, with a quite remarkable effort that will be shown in showreels of the tournament for years to come.

Not bad for a boy from Los Angeles who had already moved to Germany, the Netherlands – their conquerers in Qatar – Denmark and Turkey in pursuit of his football dream.

Image: Wright in action against England at last year’s World Cup

Image: Wright scored against Netherlands at last year’s World Cup

“It was kind of surreal,” he tells Sky Sports. “I obviously watched the World Cups growing up, and it was hard to imagine playing in one yourself.

“So to get there, play, and score… looking back now it was kind of a fever dream in many ways.

“It brought me a lot of confidence, in myself and in my ability as a player.”

Wright’s story began at LA Galaxy, before moves to Schalke in Germany (and a brief loan at SV Saundhausen in Bundesliga II), VVV Venlo in the Eredivisie, SonderjyskE in the Danish Superliga and most recently Antalyaspor in Turkey.

Now 25, he has found himself at Coventry City in the Championship, and admits England was always the target.

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“If you’re always playing you’re going to improve, and I just wanted to go where my opportunities were,” he says. “They helped me become the player I am today.

“I can speak German fluently. I enjoyed it a lot. I grew up a lot as a player and as a man there. I learned a lot about the game, and it was good for me.

“But England was always my goal. It’s always been a dream for me to play here. I appreciate the culture and the style of play. The intensity and style of play is pretty similar to Germany.

“It’s so competitive. I’m really enjoying the fans, the support is fantastic home and away. Going to every stadium has been a new experience for me, and so far I’m really enjoying it.”

Wright had a go at other sports, with all the options that are available in the States, and with his natural physical and technical attributes, the world was his oyster in many ways. But once he discovered football, there was no looking back.

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Highlights of the Sky Bet Championship match between Ipswich Town and Coventry City

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Highlights of the Sky Bet Championship match between Coventry and Plymouth

“I’d play around with my friends at school, and we went through all the sports – basketball, American Football, field hockey,” he recalls.

“I wanted to play basketball for a little while, but as soon as soccer came around, I was set on that. I really enjoyed it, and eventually stuck to it.”

It may have helped him that he grew up during the David Beckham years at LA Galaxy. But Wright is adamant he took more inspiration from Landon Donovan during his formative years in the academy – a local boy himself who went on to captain the USA and become their record scorer.

“It was probably more Donovan for me [than Beckham],” says Wright. “His impact, being the national team captain, was more influential for me as a player in the Galaxy academy at a young age. I grew up going to the StubHub Center and watching their games.

“I met him then. He was a really nice guy, but kind of intense! You could tell he was goal-driven at that age, and still had a lot of fire in his belly.

“I also grew up idolising Thierry Henry. I watched a lot of Arsenal and Premier League, then Barcelona games. When I was younger he would be the guy I’d search on YouTube and watch his highlights and stuff.”

Wright – a slightly surprise call-up at the time – hasn’t featured for the USA since his goal in Qatar last December.

But he is hopeful that playing well for Coventry in the coming months can capture the attention of head coach Gregg Berhalter, particularly with a home World Cup on the horizon in 2026.

“It would be amazing to be there as a player,” he says. “When that opportunity arises, hopefully I’ll be there with a team. The last World Cup was an amazing experience, and it would be amazing to play in my own country.

“It’s no secret I’d love to play in the Premier League one day, and hopefully one day that dream will come true.

“We’re glueing together as a team slowly, and performances are starting to show that the group is getting more cohesive. I think we’re on the right path.

“I’m not the finished product yet. There is more I can do to help my team-mates and the team, and get there personally to reach my goals.”

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