Will LA Lose Their Most Promising Young Striker to Europe?

USMNT U-17 player Haji Wright might be the next young star to leave MLS
by Roy Rosell   |   Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Galaxy of Angels – column on Los Angeles Galaxy (LA Galaxy) & the LA soccer scene.

It's not often that a star emerges from the US youth development system. In fact, a global star has never emerged from the US.

Yes, we have Landon Donovan who has been a dominant force for the US Men’s National Team with 57 goals, one of which is being considered the greatest moment in US Soccer history (goal vs. Algeria in 2010 WC). We also have Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Aron Johansson, Jermaine Jones and an array of other players who have recently, or are currently plying their trade in the world's best leagues. But we do not, or have ever, had a field player who falls in to the "world's best" category.

Freddy Adu is the one that got away. The player who was nicknamed the "Next Pele," the "American Messi," and the one to take the US on a deep run in the World Cup; has disappeared, leaving a track of disappointment, shrugging shoulders, and the lingering "what-ifs" in his path.

More recently, there was Gedion Zelalem. The Walter Johnson High School product was scouted by Arsenal just 3 games in to his high school career and this past weekend made his first team debut for the club. Yes you read correctly: Zelalem went from playing high school soccer in DC to debuting for Arsenal's first team, all in under 2 years. Considering he's also eligible to play for Germany and Ethiopia, it's going to take a hell of a fight to get this kid in red, white, and blue.

But why didn't an MLS club pick him up? We finally have a player with the potential of being a world class star coming through our system, yet we don't keep him. Considering that he played in a club and high school team in the nation's capital, you'd think he'd be swooped up early by DC United and raised in their academy until he's prepared for a first team debut.

That raises the question, what if Arsenal didn't come calling 2 years ago: Would he be just another overlooked talent, doomed to play at a level drastically lower than his own and reaped of the opportunity to develop due to a lack of proper scouting and opportunity within our borders?

We will likely never know the answer to this question. But we could get a very good idea of that in the coming weeks.

Let me introduce you to LA Galaxy Academy and US-17 star, Haji Wright.

Wright has been a crucial piece in the US U-17's recent blistering form, scoring 5 goals in the Nike Friendlies tournament in which the US dismantled Brazil and England by a combined score of 9-1 to eventually be crowned champions; and the Aegean Cup, where Wright once again showed his brilliance with the decisive goal in a thrilling 2-1 victory over broken-hearted hosts Turkey.

In the great footballing nations of the world, a consistent display of quality, or signs of potential brilliance, do not go unnoticed. Wright has displayed both, yet, the Galaxy has failed to offer him a contract, electing instead to keep him in their academy. If the goal of this league is to become one of the world's best, this "wait your turn, you're not old enough mentality" in US soccer needs to change. Yes, it's good to let a player develop. But talent must be rewarded. Wright has proved with great consistency that he's ready for the next level.

As the hungry eyes of the ever-aware European scouts remain fixated on Wright, LA must take action to avoid losing its most promising young star to Europe. The sharks have already begun to lurk the Pacific shores for Wright's signature as teams from Germany are reportedly interested in the talented young striker's services.

Some will point to Freddy Adu's debut for DC United at age 14 as an example of why exposing a player to a professional environment at such an early age could negatively impact their development,

But after his debut, Adu went on to have 5 incredible years of play in the MLS and with the US national team system. His move to Benfica, not being in the manager's favor, and the half dozen subsequent loans are what caused his career to take a turn for the worse; not his early debut.

For the MLS to continue to improve, bringing in top players is just one piece to the puzzle. The other is garnering the ability to retain young talent, something the league has struggled with. Wright's fate relies entirely on LA's cojones to stand up and break the  "too young, wait your turn" mentality that a lot of team's in the league live by. The future of the league relies on whether keeping these players becomes a trend. Here's to LA making a statement by giving Wright the opportunity to expose himself to a higher level, thus, sending those German sharks scurrying home.

 NEXT UP: March 8 – Los Angeles Galaxy vs. Real Salt Lake, StubHub Center, Carson, Calif. 10:30 p.m. EST, MLS Live.

Roy ROSELL

Nationality:
USA
College:
Cal Poly Pomona
Club Domestic:
LA Galaxy
Club Foreign:
Arsenal
Absolute fanatic, especially passionate about MLS and it's growth. LA Galaxy columnist with no filter and a knack for the controversial. Travelled the world watching soccer matches, but there's no place like home.
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