U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team member Haji Wright has had what can only be described as a dominant year.
The U.S. forward is the leading scorer for the team in 2014, tallying 18 goals in 20 international matches and adding five assists. He has become a disruptive force for the USA up front, creating constant opportunities and attacking the net. For his entire U-17 MNT tenure, the former LA Galaxy Academy striker has accumulated a robust 24 goals in 24 matches, racking up 20 of his 24 caps this year alone.
Wright has had three hat tricks this year, including a four-goal game against Montenegro. He has also featured for the U.S. U-18 MNT in 2014, winning a championship title at the 21st International Tournament of Vaclav Jezek in the Czech Republic in mid-August.
With all of his accomplishments this year, the former member of the U-17 Residency Program is one of five nominees for this year’s prestigious U.S. Soccer Male Young Athlete of the Year award.
“This whole year has been kind of like a dream for me,” said Wright. “I feel like I’ve accomplished many of the things I wanted to accomplish, but of course there’s always room for getting better. I think I now can continue to help this team by not only scoring goals but creating danger for the opposition.”
Opposing defenses have dialed in on Wright as they try to shut the forward down, and this in part has opened chances for other U.S. teammates to find spaces and creating scoring chances.
“It’s become a definite for me,” Wright said of being aware that defensive game plans are singling him out. “I think when the opposition focuses on me, then it creates opportunities for my teammates, and that’s a good thing for us. It helps the team and every player on the field.”
Wright is back in action this weekend as the U.S. U-17 MNT is currently participating in the 2014 Nike International Friendlies in Lakewood Ranch, Florida.
The USA opened up the tournament on Friday, Nov. 28, with a 3-1 victory over England. A powerful American defense, guided by a strong outing from goalkeeper Kevin Silva provided a strong backbone for the win. However, Wright’s presence also demonstrated to be a factor as it allowed players such as Josh Perez, Alejandro Zendejas and Christian Pulisic to come up with crafty plays and find the back of the net for the offensive spell.
“It’s really important for us to win the first game of this tournament,” Wright said. “We want to win the whole thing again and I think we came out and just wanted this more than England did, so we went out and got it.”
The Nike International Friendlies is the last tournament the U.S. U-17 MNT will be participating in before the 2015 CONCACAF U-17 Championship kicks off in February. That tournament will qualify the top four teams to the 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Chile.
“It’s really important that we do well in this tournament so we can get some results,” Wright said. “This will prepare us for qualifiers, and then hopefully for the World Cup.”