Alexi Lalas is ‘p***** off’ by Haji Wright’s call up on USMNT World Cup roster

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Former USMNT star turned soccer pundit, Alexi Lalas, was not happy to say the least when he first read Haji Wright’s name in the Star and Stripes’ 26-man roster for the World Cup. 

Appearing on Fox Soccer’s coverage of Gregg Berhalter’s list on Wednesday, Lalas didn’t hold back on the head coach’s choice to select Wright above the likes of Ricardo Pepi, Jordan Pefok and Brandon Vazquez. 

‘The big, big question, the main talking point is…who is it? Haji Wright!,’ the former MLS defender with 96 caps and 10 goals for his country said in disbelief. ‘Haji Wrong…’

‘Are you kidding me?! Are you kidding me?! Haji Wright! See, this is the one that gets me p***ed off. I do not understand how Haji Wright is going to the World Cup over Pepi, over Pefok,’ Lalas added. 

Haji Wright, who has scored nine times in 12 games in Turkey, is a surprise call up to the USMNT

He then leans into Fox Sports researcher, David Mosse, and tells him: ‘When we were putting together our list of potentials…’ 

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‘We did a segment debating who the strikers would be and we listed all the possibilities. We debated whether to include Haji Wright on that list of possible callups because, frankly, you know, Berhalter, he played him in that El Salvador slop game in the Nations League and he struggled there,’ Mosse said. 

‘And then [Berhalter] absolutely ripped him afterwards and left him out of the September window. So I’ll be honest, I’m shocked,’ he added. ‘I thought he was out of the picture.’ 

‘But what was interesting is, and we talked about this a lot on the pod, is early on this season, there was this narrative that ”how could you not call up Pefok with the great form he’s displaying with Union Berlin” and somewhere along the line, that narrative turned its head because very quietly, he went into a slump here.’  

‘He has 0 goals in his last 10 games for Union Berlin and Berhalter cited today that the reason he’s not on the squad is his lack of form for club so it’s interesting how that narrative got turned on its head.’ 

Alexi Lalas, who has 96 caps and 10 goals for his country, did not hold back on Wright's call up

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Alexi Lalas, who has 96 caps and 10 goals for his country, did not hold back on Wright’s call up

Ricardo Pepi

Jordan Pefok

Wright was selected above the likes of Ricardo Pepi, of Groningen, and Jordan Pefok, of Union Berlin, who’ve played and were also more often selected for the Star and Stripes than the 24-year-old 

Antalyaspor’s Wright, 24, is in rich vein of form, as of late, and he is the second top scorer in the Turkish Super Lig with nine goals in 12 appearances this season. 

He was first called up by the USMNT in June and scored on his debut against Morocco in a 3-0 win, his only goal for his country, to date. 

Former Bolton Wanderers and US midfielder Stuart Holden labelled Wright’s inclusion on the Star and Stripes roster as the ‘biggest headscratcher, bar Zack Steffen’s.’ The on-loan Middlesborough goalkeeper was omitted from selection, as Berhalter went with Matt Turner, Ethan Horvath and Sean Johnson. 

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‘I think Haji Wright, is ultimately, a break-glass-in-case-of-an-emergency type player with his big, physical frame. His size. A guy who’s in form, scoring goals, left and right is a guy you’re going to throw on in the last 15-20 minutes,’ Holden said. 

Stuart Holden (right) described Wright as a 'break-glass-in-case-of-an-emergency type player'

Stuart Holden (right) described Wright as a ‘break-glass-in-case-of-an-emergency type player’

‘I don’t think you see him starting a game. I think it would have to get pretty deep down the line and Gregg’s gameplan isn’t to see Haji Wright start.’ 

Lalas agreed with his co-pundit, adding Wright offers a ‘different look’ and inclined that part of the reason for his selection might have been because he was ‘raised in a cocoon of an entire generation of US players.’ 

After kicking off its World Cup campaign against Wales, the US then face England in a Black Friday matchup, before finishing Group B against Iran on November 29. 

And only time will tell if Wright will have vindicated his head coach’s faith in him.

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