Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Who is Haji Wright? The USA international lighting up the FA Cup at Coventry

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Haji Wright wheeled away and charged towards the corner flag, arms spreading in delight as he found the away supporters at Molineux. Down to his knees the American sank in a slide of celebration, his curling effort having secured Coventry City an FA Cup semi-final for only the second time in history.

It had been a day of remarkable drama. For much of the second half, Ellis Simms’ goal looked to have given the Championship club victory over Wolves, only for Rayan Ait-Nouri and substitute Hugo Bueno to strike twice in five minutes to seemingly dash their dreams.

But Mark Robins’ men had one more cup twist up their sleeve, a second for Simms deep in stoppage time bringing them level before Wright struck to snatch victory. A place in the last four, and a glamour tie at Wembley against Manchester United, belonged to Coventry.

Born in Los Angeles, Wright has taken the path less travelled to get to this point. Tipped as a teenager to be a future star of the United States men’s national team, he signed for Schalke in 2016 and set about climbing quickly towards the Bundesliga club’s first team. He seemed to have all the assets required to make it: height, pace, two-footedness, genuine scoring skil.

Haji Wright has flourished at Coventry this season (Getty Images)

But a promising career soon stalled, his progress blocked by a lack of opportunities. In the summer of 2019, Schalke reached agreement to let him leave for VVV Venlo in the Netherlands by mutual consent, the forward having registered just once in his short career at the club.

Venlo proved little more fertile ground for Wright to forge his career. One season, 22 Eredivisie appearances, no goals, and another move, this time to Sønderjyske in Denmark. A player once tipped as the next big thing while out-shining Christian Pulisic for the United States’ Under-17s had so far done little to build beyond his obvious potential, but the small town of Haderslev gave him new life.

Within a couple of months of arrival in Denmark, Wright was named Superliga player of the month. A solid campaign from there saw him back on the radar of bigger clubs; in July of 2021, Wright forced through a move to Antalyaspor in Turkey. His European tour continued but his success did not slow, 14 league goals while on loan in 2021/22 followed by 15 more last season amidst an international breakthrough. Of Liberian and Ghanaian descent, Wright made his USMNT debut in June 2022, scoring against Morocco, and added a second international goal against the Netherlands at the World Cup in Qatar.

Wright scored during the USA’s World Cup defeat to the Netherlands (Getty Images)

His consistent scoring form had brought links to Championship clubs in the past and last summer, Wright was sent to Coventry, the club paying a club record fee of around £7.7m to bring him to the Midlands. The 26-year-old has struck up a strong partnership with Simms, each closing in on the 20-goal mark in all competitions.

Now the pair will look to test a Manchester United defence as Coventry eye yet more cup history. Their 1987 triumph remains one of the great cup finals, Tottenham stunned at Wembley in extra time. With three Premier League heavyweights making up the rest of the final four, repeating the feat may be beyond Coventry but Wright has already given them a cup run to remember.

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