EXTRA EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT! FC SCHALKE 04 WIN A GAME OF FOOTBALL!
That’s right, everyone. After 30 games and almost an entire calendar year, Schalke picked up a nice, clean, fresh three points after hammering Hoffenheim 4-0 on Saturday afternoon. For the team now sat second-bottom of the Bundesliga, it was their first opportunity to smile in a long, miserable year.
They haven’t had a lot of practise, in fairness. Front and centre of their miraculous victory was a 19-year-old American striker called Matthew Hoppe. The teenager hit a super hat-trick, destroying the Hoffenheim defence to give his supporters an afternoon they’ll never forget.
The Bundesliga has seen some great Americans grace their pitches in recent years, with Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie two of the latest to become stars on the European stage. But who is Hoppe, and is he set to be the next big thing coming out of the USA, made in Germany?
Life is full of these sliding doors moments, and one arrived extremely early in Hoppe’s short career. The youngster had committed to playing for San Diego State University soccer team, but an offer from Schalke convinced him to take the leap of faith.
Hoppe ditched college and instead moved to Europe, pushing himself out of his comfort zone as a mere teenager. He has taken full advantage of that opportunity though, having broken into the Schalke first team and now writing his name into club folklore with his wonderful hat-trick.
Fortune favours the brave.
If there’s one thing we can be sure about, it’s that Hoppe knows where the goal is. The American forward has shown clinical finishing at every level, and even in Schalke’s youth team, there was evidence of the ice cold blood which courses through his veins.
This brace against Inglostadt was a warning sign of things to come, with his first goal against Hoffenheim ending with an eerily similar finish, clipping the ball over the goalkeeper with his left foot.
His other strikes were equally as glorious, first racing onto a through ball to round the goalkeeper and roll home, and then arrogantly flicking a right boot to clip a first-time finish into the far corner. Oozing confidence.
Ok, so maybe he’s not a genuine product of Barcelona’s famous ‘La Masia’ academy, but Hoppe did spend two years at Arizona’s ‘Barcelona Residency Academy’…which is basically the same thing, right?
The academy is associated with la Blaugrana’s wonderkid factory, and the experience even allowed Hoppe to spend 2 weeks training at the real Masia academy, where he played alongside some of the soon-to-be biggest names of our sport.
The American picked out Ansu Fati as the most talented of all – maybe he’s got a future as a scout, too.
Every player, no matter how famous or otherwise, has an idol. It comes as little surprise then, that the man Hoppe looks up to is Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland.
Only a year younger than the Norwegian robot, Hoppe has previously admitted that he studies the striker’s movement, and is trying to learn as much as possible from his performances.
With 25 league goals in 25 appearances, there are worse examples to follow, in fairness to Hoppe.
It was a day of records and non-records for Schalke and Hoppe, as the German giants avoided equalling the longest winless streak in Bundesliga history by one game, winning for the first time in their 31st attempt in a mind-blowing 359 days.
While they narrowly avoided one record, another was broken on Saturday. Hoppe became the first American footballer to score a hat-trick in the Bundesliga, writing his name into the history books as a precocious teenager.
The only way is up for Schalke, and Hoppe is going to drag them on that journey.
Incredibly, Hoppe has not always been a striker. Until only a couple of years ago, the American played as a midfielder, showing his attacking intent from the middle of the pitch.
Ultimately, his ruthless nature and impressive finishing shone brightest, and it was only a matter of time until he was awarded his chance to lead the line, an opportunity he has grabbed with both hands.
Hoppe also likes to drop deeper from his attacking position, using his experience in both areas of the pitch to hurt defences. He’s gonna be a star.