When USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter unveiled the 26 players who will represent the United States at the 2022 World Cup, there were relatively few surprises.
Few, however, thought Haji Wright was still in serious contention to go to Qatar. Berhalter explained the selection by stating his preference to have a taller target forward in the mix in case the U.S. was chasing a goal late in a game. To that notion, it was essentially a pick between Jordan Pefok and Wright — and ultimately, the second-leading scorer in the Turkish Süper Lig won out on current form.
Player: Haji Wright
Birthplace: Los Angeles, CA
Team role: Reserve
USMNT caps: 3
The 24-year-old striker is buddies with Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie. The three of them played together at the 2015 U17 World Cup and were reunited over the summer when Wright was called into USMNT camp. Now they’ll get to play together on the full team at the 2022 Qatar World Cup.
Wright, who scored a goal in his first cap against Morocco on June 1, may not be well-known to U.S. Soccer fans but has a long history playing for various clubs overseas. He had a breakout season in 2021-22 when he finished among the Super Lig’s top scorers at Turkish club Antalyaspor — he scored 15 goals in 35 matches, including in seven straight games in April and May. That’s when he caught Berhalter’s attention.
“That was the duo back in the day, me and Haji,” an apparently prophetic Pulisic said in May before a USMNT friendly. “We played a lot of games together in the youth national teams. And it’s cool to have him back in, first of all, seeing him do so well at club level, and having him here is great. So he’s gonna get his opportunity and yeah, I’m just excited for him.”
Did Haji Wright deserve to make the USMNT’s World Cup squad?
Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in spring 2022 to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.