All the Haji Wright moves lift USMNT to 2024 CNL Final

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
The 25-year-old represented the United States in the 2022 World Cup, and scored the USA’s single goal during the team’s eventual elimination by the Netherlands in the round of 16.

The U.S. Men’s Soccer team rallied back to reach the CONCACAF Nations League Final after trailing 0-1 against Jamaica for the first 95 minutes of a match with a little help from the soccer gods and Los Angeles native Haji Wright to overwhelm a solid Reggae Boyz 3-1 by the end of extra time.

Wright, tallied a brace in the CNL Semifinal against Jamaica with two late goals after coming on as a substitute, has come a long way since the last time he scored for the U.S. Men’s National Team. The 25-year-old represented the United States in the 2022 World Cup, and scored the USA’s single goal during the team’s eventual elimination by the Netherlands in the round of 16. Yet he’s admitted in interviews that that lucky goal wasn’t necessarily deliberate.

Since that, he’d not been called-up by Gregg Berhalter or his assistants for any other matches or camps, including this latest CNL semifinal match. But earlier this week a little bit of Saint Patrick’s Day luck sprinkled its way into his life and has left lingering effects on his life as the American Abroad went from being relatively unknown to Coaches’ Man of the Match.

Over the last five days, Wright has scored more lucky but intentional goals. Last Sunday, playing for his club team, Coventry County (who play in the EFL Championship league), he scored the winning last-gasp goal in their FA Cup match to upset Premier League side Wolverhampton Wolves, and reach the semifinal stage of the coveted competition for the first time since the 1987 season in which they won the FA Cup.

A day later, while Wright and his family were boarding a plane to Dubai for a well-earned vacation after his high-flying season with Coventry in which he has scored 15 goals across 40 matches in all competitions, USMNT’s Berhalter called him to ask him to fill in for an injured Josh Sargent. Sargent and Wright have both tallied 13 goals in their EFL Championship seasons to date, however Sargent has been out with a right ankle injury and when Wright received the call to play for the national team that had iced him out for over a year, he was given ten minutes to think about his reply. He quickly agreed to join his U.S. teammates, and as he was subbed on for Tim Weah in the 64th minute with a 1-goal deficit against Jamaica for a do or die match, his typical determination and humility shined through. Fighting for a coveted number 9 position for the USMNT isn’t new to him. “We have a lot of quality up front, and that’s normal for such a big nation,” he reflected in a post-match interview with CBS Sports afterwards. “We have a lot of players who are hungry and fighting for a few positions really. As long as whoever’s playing deserves it, I’m fine with whoever’s playing.”

The Angeleno’s soccer career began in his humble backyard playing with his brother and has taken him from the LA Galaxy Academy to Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Turkey and now England, but his breakout season wasn’t until 2021-22 in which he finished in the top scorers of the Turkish Super Lig with 15 goals for Antalyaspor. Since then he’s consistently finished with almost a goal in every other game. But he practices his skills in the shadows of his more prominent teammates like Christian Pulisic, Ricardo Pepi or Tim Weah, and it wasn’t until last night that hard work paid off on an international stage as he scored a game-winner and insurance goal in the 96th and 109th minutes (both assisted by another dark horse teammate, Gio Reyna). “I just have to keep pursuing and trusting in my abilities and trusting in what I do best and that’s play football,” he said afterwards. The USMNT were gifted extra time when Jamaica’s Cory Burke accidentally scored an own-goal in the dying minutes of regular time. “We got the goal right at the end, which is miraculous.” Berhalter admitted. Luck and determination certainly played a huge role in all the events leading to Wright’s week. He’d been overlooked for the initial call-up. He’d scored an unlikely last minute winner for Coventry on Saint Patrick’s Day. He’d gotten Berhalter’s phone call right as he was boarding a plane. The own-goal that led to extra time was an inexplicable turn of fate. And, perfectly scripted for the boy who came from the land of Hollywood, he scored the only two goals of the night that the USMNT could truly call their own. And, unlike the 2022 World Cup, this time around, there’s no doubt he meant to score.

Is it enough to warrant a return to the starting lineup on Sunday’s CNL Final? “Well all a guy can do is what he just did,” Berhalter declared. This Sunday, when the USA faces Mexico to defend their title, we find out if Wright has truly righted his ship with his national team.