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Haji Wright’s stoppage-time winner completes hat-trick for Antalyaspor

This summer has seen the list of promising American striker prospects grow after the Concacaf Nations League and Gold Cup, but Saturday saw yet another candidate make his case for inclusion on Gregg Berhalter’s radar.

Haji Wright scored a hat-trick on Saturday, including a stoppage-time winner from the penalty spot for Turkish Super Lig side Antalyaspor in a 3-2 win against Rizespor.

Having joined Antalyaspor on loan from Danish side Sonderjyske just one month earlier, Wright hadn’t scored in his first three starts for the Turkish club. That changed on Saturday, even after a VAR decision negated a ninth-minute finish by the 23-year-old former LA Galaxy academy product.

Wright shook that off and opened the scoring in the 18th minute, and added his second from the penalty spot in the 54th minute to give his team a 2-0 lead.

Antalyaspor watched that lead evaporate when Rizespor scored an equalizer in the third minute of second-half stoppage time, but before Antalyaspor was left to settle for a home draw, Rizespor was called for another penalty. Wright stepped up to the spot and converted in the 10th minute of second-half stoppage time to secure Antalyaspor’s first win of the season.

Wright has established himself as a regular starter with Antalyaspor since joining on loan from Sonderjyske following his breakout 2020/2021 season with the Danish club. Wright scored 11 goals for Sonderjyske before joining Antalyaspor this summer.

The former Schalke striker left the German club after the 2018/2019 season and endured a career setback during a disappointing season with Dutch side VVV Venlo. He was able to regain some career momentum with Sonderjyske, and now appears to be finding his groove as a starting striker in Europe.

Berhalter is no stranger to Wright, having called him in as part of a group of U-23 players who trained with the USMNT prior to the 2019 Gold Cup. Wright’s success at Sonderjyske wasn’t enough to earn a call from Berhalter in the spring, but continued success in Turkey could bring Wright closer to the national team picture.

Comments

  1. I haven’t seen him play since that U-17 team. He seemed athletic, but not really a hard-worker or skilled player. Of course 6 years certainly can make a difference and his experience in Denmark and now Turkey provides evidence of that. It would be nice if BG had yet another hard decision to make regarding the forward position in the coming year.

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  2. He looked dominant the first half of the season in Denmark. He has enormous athletic ability. I’ve been hoping he would figure it all out and blossom for a while. We will see. A nice scoring streak like he had last fall would be nice.

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  3. Is Wright potentially legit or was this a one-off?

    The last time I saw him play – admittedly it was awhile back – I was not real impressed with him and didn’t think his touch or skill was nearly USMNT level and his work rate did not particularly impress me; he definitely did not come across like a Gyasi Zardes who would give you 110% of whatever he had and rip his own guts out to be there.

    Has he improved? Any notion?

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    • It seems like he’s been around forever, but the article states he’s only 23. It is possible that he has moved off what seemed to be a plateau a while back to having made a big step forward. We have had so many young kids make a mark lately it’s easy to forget that some players are late bloomers. I like to point out that Clint Dempsey didn’t play his first professional game until he was 21 and didn’t go to Fulham until he was 23 and then took almost a year before becoming a regular for them.

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      • While Haji will likely have over 100 pro games in Europe by then. He could still reach a similar level. It’s crazy to think that this generation is so talented that a player of this caliber is considered disappointing. He is roughly somewhere between Charlie Davies pre car wreck and Clint Dempsey in terms of accomplishment at similar point in their careers/age.

      • Played U17 WC with Pulisic, Adams, and De La Torre. So he hasn’t reached Tyler or CPs level but his career is in better shape than Olosunde and Perez (whose now going to have a hat-trick Thursday for ES).

    • With Schalke’s YTs they always rated Wes and Taitague as the real stars even though Haji was scoring like crazy. I think at that time he was just so athletically gifted but lacked in technical skills that they didn’t rate him as high. That kind of bore itself out in his brief stint with the first team. VVV tried him more as a wing, it didn’t work but that team was so bad. He had 13g across all competitions last year in Denmark so I don’t think his hat trick is a one off. He might not get back to a Top 5 league but I don’t see any reason he couldn’t have a successful career in a second tier league similar to what Pefok has done in Switzerland.

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    • Nobody knows, dude. There are statistics and goal highlights. Kinda stuff that might make you conclude that he is “probably better than Romain Gall, but not yet as good as Pefok”. Work to do.

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