Any American soccer fan would be forgiven for not paying all that much attention to Schalke striker Matthew Hoppe heading into this season. Though he is a teenager from California at a huge Bundesliga club, over the last two years Schalke has eroded at an astonishing rate. A murderer’s row of elite players have recently left the club for free, leaving Schalke scrambling for talent. The club is currently on its fourth manager in five months, sitting at the bottom of the Bundesliga table with a -30 goal difference and seven points from 17 games.
Hoppe played in spot minutes for Schalke during its worst run, and while an American player getting minutes in the Bundesliga is always a positive, he was functionally doing so for a second-division club. Also, Hoppe never was considered much of a prospect. He has no U.S. youth national team experience, and before getting plucked from the Barcelona residency program in Arizona by Schalke, he was set to join a bad college soccer program. Hoppe didn’t even truly stand out among Schalke’s reserves, scoring three goals in a year and a half with the youth and reserve teams, and doing nothing in his first four Bundesliga appearances. Not exactly the most auspicious of pedigrees here.
Naturally, Hoppe has since morphed into the hottest striker in Germany. After all that scuttling around I told you about in those first two paragraphs, Hoppe has scored five goals in three games, including a hat trick against Hoffenheim two weeks ago. Previously held notions of Hoppe’s status as a prospect and qualifiers about Schalke circling the toilet go out the window with that sort of production against top-level competition. The list of teenagers who have scored like this is short and prestigious.
Days after his three-piece, Hoppe nutmegged the Frankfurt keeper from a narrow angle …
… and then scored against Köln on Wednesday.
After watching Josh Sargent exhibit good process all season with a single musty goal to show for it (not to mention Christian Pulisic continuing to do the same for a woebegone Chelsea side), it unambiguously rules to see this level of production. Sure, he’s not booting it in from outside the box or dribbling past three dudes, but goals are goals, and Hoppe is the ideal sort of American player to break out in 2021.
Striker is the USMNT’s only position without a no-shit starter who is making things happen at the highest level for his club. Sargent has spent his season making nice runs and throwing his hands up in disbelief, Jordan Morris looks like he’ll get some run with Swansea as they charge for the Premier League, and there are some cool guys producing at lower tiers. But until Hoppe started popping up and bagging goals, the position group was still a question mark.
And it still is a question mark to be sure, though it’d be overly cautious not to get excited about Hoppe. There’s no squinting at a future where he scores Bundesliga goals; five in three is legitimately excellent production, even in a small sample. The contours of Hoppe’s club and USMNT futures remain uncertain, but I encourage you not to worry about that yet. Just enjoy him breaking out, for as long as it lasts.