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The American striker heads to Wembley as a huge underdog as he prepares for a game with much at stake

What was so striking about Haji Wright’s famous World Cup goal was just how unlikely it was. A surprising call-up to the U.S. men’s national team squad to begin with, Wright’s finish against the Netherlands was a happy accident. Wright himself admits he knew nothing about it. It was one big moment of luck.

Wright’s journey, though, isn’t defined by that one goal. After initially breaking onto the scene as a teenage prodigy with the New York Cosmos, he’s bounced all over Europe in preparation for that big moment. This weekend, he faces another big moment, another opportunity to make his mark on a massive, massive match.

The USMNT forward is set to lead Coventry City into an FA Cup semifinal on Sunday. Coventry City, yes, little old Coventry City, are going to Wembley. They’ll face Cheap Manchester United Soccer Jerseys at English soccer’s top venue, entering as heavy underdogs against the country’s most famous club.

Wright will be leading the charge, as he has all season. He’s the man in form and a big reason Coventry City are there in the first place. And, as the Sky Blues prepare for their big game, Wright will dream of crafting another huge surprise.

A winding road to Coventry
If you haven’t seen them by now, go look up photos of a young Wright and a young Christian Pulisic for the U.S. youth national team. Wright is a good foot taller than Pullsic, much as he is now. The AC Milan star has a baby face and isn’t sporting his now trademark beard. All these years later, those two are still teammates with a World Cup under their belt.

But, while Pulisic’s journey has been fully in the spotlight, Wright soccer jersey has comparatively been in the shadows.

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USMNT wildcard Haji Wright can prove Copa America point in Coventry City’s Wembley day out against giants Man Utd

It began with the New York Cosmos as Wright started his career with something of an internship before he was old enough to hop to Europe. He then moved to Schalke, where he never quite broke through. A subsequent move to VVV Venlo was rough, too. By the start of the 2020-21 season, the fourth of his professional career, Wright had scored just three senior goals in 45 games in Europe.

In 2020, Wright took another step backwards, joining Sonderjyske in the Danish Super League and, from there, he built. A 13-goal campaign in Denmark earned a loan move to Turkish side Antalyaspor, where he scored 15 goals to earn a permanent deal. He poured in 16 more in 2022-23, booking his spot at the World Cup with a hot start to that club season.

On the heels of that World Cup run, Coventry City splashed the cash to sign Wright in a club-record £7.7 million ($9.5m) deal. That fee, while massive for a Championship club, has been more than justified as the forward has dazzled in his introductory season to the English game.

Wright’s huge season
It didn’t take long for Wright to announce his arrival at Coventry. He scored his first goal in a 3-0 win over Middlesbrough in his home debut. In the months since it’s safe to say he hasn’t looked back.

In total, Wright has 17 goals in all competitions, with 15 coming in the rough-and-tumble Championship. It’s a good haul for any attacker, let alone for a player in his first year in England. His return in the Championship has him tied for fifth in the league, level with USMNT teammate Josh Sargent as well as Che Adams and Jack Clarke heading into the season’s final weeks.

Wright’s biggest moment, though, came in the FA Cup. Seeking their first semifinal appearance in nearly 40 years, Coventry City soccer jersey were paired with Wolves. A tough match, for sure – the opponents were an established Premier League side.

Down a goal in the final moments, all hope was nearly lost before Wright’s teasing cross was flicked on for a 97th-minute equalizer from Ellis Simms to keep the Sky Blues alive. There would be no extra time or penalties, though, as Wright netted with a pinpoint finish three minutes later to send Coventry through with the biggest goal of his club career so far.

Still, Wright was left off the USMNT squad for the CONCACAF Nations League. But, as he was on his way for a quick international break vacation, his phone rang. It was Gregg Berhalter.

Taking his chance
Just by showing up, Wright earned some respect.

Berhalter’s call came as Wright and his family were boarding a plane to Dubai. An injury to Sargent had opened up a spot. It was Wright’s if he wanted it. If not, it wouldn’t be held against him. The call came very, very late, after all.

“He called me back and he said, ‘I’m in’,” Berhalter said, “and, when I heard that, it really shows what type of guy he is and what his character is.”

Wright will be thankful that the call came, but the USMNT will be even more thankful that Wright picked up. He was their savior in the CONCACAF Nations League.

With the U.S. trailing in the dying moments against Jamaica in the semifinal, a late own goal sent the game to extra time. Once there, Wright took over, scoring twice off two Gio Reyna assists to send the USMNT into the finale. With the goals, Wright became the first USMNT substitute to score a brace in a knockout match.

Wright was rewarded for his efforts. He started ahead of Folarin Balogun in the final, which saw the U.S. take down Mexico 2-0. It was a huge international break for Wright, who got his hands on an international trophy. More importantly, though, he put himself in a position to compete for another this summer as he re-entered a chaotic Copa America striker race.

The USMNT striker race
Going into the Nations League, Wright looked like he was on the outside looking in. Now, he’s right in the thick of it as several stars push to be the USMNT No.9.

Balogun is likely still the favorite, despite an up-and-down season at Monaco. Now over a year into his USMNT career, it still feels like the U.S. is learning how to play with the ex-Arsenal man, who has looked just a bit out of sync with his teammates.

Ricardo Pepi is in the mix, too, despite being limited to a supersub role at PSV. And then there’s Josh Sargent, the most in-form of the group as he continues to bang in goal after goal in the Championship for Norwich City. If he keeps scoring, he may be the guy.

Wright, though, is right there in that mix,too.

“It’s not just all for nothing as some people would say,” he told The Athletic earlier this year. “[Berhalter] was telling me to keep going because with every goal I’m closer to the team.”

In the end, the race to be on the Copa America roster may very well come down to form. Wright, though, has a huge chance this weekend to make one hell of a statement in a huge knockout game.

The FA Cup semi
Few people are giving Coventry City a chance on Sunday. Rightfully so. They’re playing Manchester United, after all. No, this isn’t Sir Alex Ferguson’s Red Devils, but this is a Premier League giant taking on a club that hasn’t been in the top flight since 2001. Just six short years ago, they were playing in League Two. There’s a gulf in quality here.

Coventry City, though, have made it this far and, as they prepare for the trip to Wembley, Wright feels they’ll have a shot.

“I said it many times before, we have a lot of quality in our side,” Wright told ITV Sport after the win over Wolves. “And as long as we believe and keep trying, I think we’ll get our chances. And today we were able to take three of them, and it’s enough for the win.

“It’s amazing to make it to Wembley on such an occasion and such a game. It’s great fun for all of us. Hopefully, we can enjoy it and then get back to work.”

If Wright can help Coventry City to an upset, it’ll be one heck of a statement to Berhalter. With the USMNT so focused on knockout performances, a big performance in a semifinal against United would be a huge resume boost for Wright. It’s arguably the biggest test of his career as he looks to help Coventry City conjure the impossible.

Can they do it? Probably not. But the fact that they’re here has to make you wonder… what if?

Premier League dreams?
It’s a tight race in the Championship. Coventry City have just four games remaining, and a path to the Premier League seems all but impossible.

As things stand, eighth-place Coventry trail sixth-place Norwich by eight points, with Hull City sandwiched in between. Coventry do have a game in hand on the Canaries but, even so, qualifying for that fourth and final playoff spot will be extremely hard.

Who knows what lies ahead for Wright, though. Clubs in England will see how quickly he’s adapted to life in the second tier. Meanwhile, the USMNT will have seen how much he’s grown as a striker. He’s no longer that young player fighting to find his way in Europe. No, these days, Wright is established. He’s here.

The 26-year-old striker is just entering his prime as the USMNT marches into a culture-defining two-year period. Will Wright play a part in that? He’s fighting for it, and that fight continues on Sunday with a potentially life-changing match at Wembley.

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