MEET MATTHEW HOPPE: THE AMERICAN YOUNGSTER SHINING AT A SCHALKE IN TURMOIL
Bundesliga big boys Schalke haven’t played second tier football since 1991 and with the side eight points from the relegation playoff spot, it’s not looking great for Christian Gross’ side.
The Gelsenkirchen outfit have had a torrid time of late and an embarrassing year long stint without a win in the league was narrowly avoided a few weeks back after a 4-0 victory against Hoffenheim.
In that victory was a scintillating 20 minute hat trick courtesy of practically unknown striker Matthew Hoppe. But who is the American starlet, and can his exuberant youthfulness help the Royal Blues avoid relegation this season?
Hoppe was born and raised in Orange County, California and properly began his footballing journey at Strikers FC in 2015. The club has produced players such as former USMNT midfielder Benny Felihaber and striker Bobby Wood, both of which like Hoppe have played in the Bundesliga.
He was set on a move across the pond when he was just 16 after spending some time training in Germany with four different clubs including the likes of Fortuna Dusseldorf.
After the trip, Strikers FC technical director Don Ebert recalled Hoppe saying to him, “That’s it. This is it. I don’t even want to go back.”
He did return to the USA due to his young age and a move to the Barca Residency Academy in Arizona in 2017 allowed further growth to work toward a desired move abroad. And in June 2019, that desired move arrived, and Hoppe signed for Schalke.
The attacking midfielder turned striker gained some notoriety scoring consistently for the under-19s and a Bundesliga debut arrived at his feet in November in a 4-1 defeat against Borussia Monchengladbach.
Fast forward two months and the American has made 8 league appearances for Schalke scoring five goals, including that brilliant hat trick against Hoffenheim.
The Royal Blues were extremely low on confidence, but the 19-year-old took the game by the scruff of the neck. He broke through the back line three times either side of the break and finished brilliantly to get the win for Schalke.
This was the performance where Matthew Hoppe presented himself to the footballing world. But why hadn’t he been noticed before?
The youth star has gone largely under the radar on the international scene with his average goal and assist return for the Schalke second team. But his recent resurgence has American football fans wondering how he has never been involved in the international setup.
A lot of the stars in the USA setup have ventured to Germany to play their football and have progressed massively and are now regulars in the national team.
Players like Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna and Weston Mckennie are great examples with all three making senior debuts in the Bundesliga and now performing well at Chelsea, Dortmund and Juventus, respectively.
Whilst he may find it hard to get into the US team with the likes of Josh Sargent, Timothy Weah and American veteran Jozy Altidore to compete with, it is likely he will get some sort of call up in the coming years.
But what type of player is Hoppe?
The Yorba Linda, CA product is an effortless mover with the ball and has a brilliant ability to run at defences and be direct. As seen recently, he is always looking to get in behind, which works well for Schalke with creative midfielder Amine Harit there to play him through, as he did three times against Hoffenheim.
The recent signing of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar will also help Hoppe massively. The Dutch veteran has recently returned to aid his former club who are in dire need of help. It appears this may be one of the last stints he has in football.
But working with such an experienced player week in week out, in a way whilst one legends career draws to a close, another’s may begin to heat up.
Hoppe’s future is up in the air at the moment, with Schalke’s Bundesliga status hanging in the balance after another crushing defeat, as they lost 4-0 to Bayern Munich.
The striker has undeniable potential and will be on the books of some big clubs should his good form continue, and with a worrying financial situation in Gelsenkirchen, they may soon need to cash out on their wonderkid from California.