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The inside story of: Matthew Hoppe – The USMNT star made in Barcelona

Matthew Hoppe is just 20 years old, but he has already played in two of Europe’s toughest leagues. FTF spoke to the USMNT forward’s former coach.

As Schalke rolled into 2021 they were in a desperate position. Christian Gross had just become their third manager of the season and they hadn’t won a Bundesliga game for 358 days.

On more game without a win would see them equal Tasmania Berlin’s record of 31 games without victory.

Schalke were in need of a hero.

Had fans been allowed inside the Veltins-Arena very few would have been optimistic of victory. Their opponents, Hoffenheim, sat 14th whilst Schalke had been cemented to the bottom of the table since 21 November.

Luckily for the Royal Blues a hero did arrive at the Veltins-Arena, and his name was Matthew Hoppe.

The 18-year-old American scored a hat-trick as Schalke ran out 4-0 winners over Hoffenheim. In just one game Hoppe had become a hero and had saved Schalke from embarrassment.  

FTF spoke to Miha Kline, director of recruitment and soccer operations at the Barca Residency Academy to learn more about one of the USMNT’s upcoming stars.

The origin story

Like most children in the US, Matthew Hoppe began by all kinds of sports at his home in California. From Baseball to American football, it was in football captured his heart the most.

His father shared a similar passion for the sport, something that the pair bonded over whilst training everyday. It was that dedication and relationship with his father that helped him earn a spot at LA Galaxy’s academy at the age of thirteen.

Like all good heros, Hoppe’s origin story isn’t without heartbreak. After just one season at the Galaxy, he was cut from the team. But this early setback didn’t stop him on his mission to become a professional footballer.

After a year playing at the Strikers Academy he joined the Barça Residency Academy, a sister academy of Barcelona’s La Masia.

The academy was established in 2017 in Casa Grande, Arizona and Hoppe was amongst the first group of players to join the academy.

“Hoppe is a great example of the kind of player we want to have here,” said Kline. “He came from a club in California, and he did really well impress us during our first ever try out.

“He came in with the idea in his head that he was a number 10 but one of our coaches Sean McCafferty and I noticed that the kid had a nose for goal, so we pushed him higher up the field.

“One of the guys at the try-out who was playing up front got injured so we moved Matthew up and he scored a bunch goals. We knew we had to sign him.”

In joining the academy Hoppe left his family home in Yorba Linda, California and moved into the academy’s residence in Casa Grande. Moving away from his family came with an independence that many don’t experience until they go off to college. This forced Hoppe to mature at a much younger age.

“It’s a common thread that we see across the academy. The boys just mature much quicker because we provide them with the resources to do so. We don’t just baby sit them.

“Family is really important to him. He got embraced by all the players and coaches here which was great for his personal growth.

Although Matthew Hoppe was now a six-hour drive away from home that didn’t stop his family from seeing him at every opportunity. They would spend the weekend in Phoenix every time Hoppe had a home game.

Learning curve

It wasn’t easy for Hoppe to adjust to his new role. It took some time for Hoppe to adjust to a new position whilst in an entirely new setting.

“In his first two months he only scored a couple of goals. But step by step he started to really understand our system, when to make the correct runs and when to run back.

“He was rewarded for his hard work. Once he got his first and second goal you could see his confidence grow and then he started banging hattricks.

Not only did Hoppe have to work on the tactical side of his new role as a number nine, but he also had to develop physically. During his first year at the academy Hoppe gained a staggering 17lbs of muscle.

“He was a scrawny kid when he first arrived with us. But hats off to him, he put in the hard work in the gym, eat the right food and really grew into his body.”

Once Hoppe got underway, he couldn’t stop scoring goals. By the end of his first season in the DA he has scored 29 goals, making him one of the top goal scorers in the country.

His goals helped the U17 team, which included names such as Julian Araujo, Jose Olmos, Cameron Fisher and Carter Payne,  to an incredibly successful season during their maiden year. On their way to reaching the semi-finals of the DA they beat nine MLS academies.

In the final four they lost 4-1 to a well-established Seattle Sounders side, but then bounced back with a 3-1 win over Montreal Impact to claim third place in the country.

“That 01 group was special and they certainly helped put us on the map. We earned the credibility in the eyes of players, scouts and opponents.

“They really just clicked in our first year and when they were moved to the U19’s they had another phenomenal year with Hoppe finishing top scorer in the country.

“That really helped shape the narrative and earn us the credibility across the soccer world in the US. And it’s all due to the boys’ hard work, dedication and camaraderie.

College

The Barca Residency Academy don’t simply focus on a player’s on the field development. Academic achievements are just as important. If a player falls behind on schoolwork, they don’t play. That was never a worry for Matthew Hoppe.

He achieved an extremely good GPA (grade point average) of 4.5 which helped him land a full ride scholarship at San Diego State University.

“He’s so intelligent, he understood what we were asking him to do, he was coachable but he was also an exceptional student.

“It was amazing to see that he put 100% into everything, and at the end of his time here he had all these incredible options open to him because of it.

“We remind the players daily that college is a viable option for them and that’s why education is so important.”

Hoppe was all set to become San Diego State Aztec before he received an offer from German giants Schalke. As Kline points out “when Schalke come knocking you don’t say no to that.”

Schalke 04

Despite some initial trepidation from his father, Matthew Hoppe opted to test himself in Europe. Having impressed during his trail at the club Hoppe packed his bags and signed for The Royal Blues in June 2019.

Speaking to Bundelisga.com Hoppe explained why it was an easy decision to join Schalke “I was coming off of two really, really good seasons in America and I had my eyes set on Europe.

“I got in contact with my agent from Bond MG, Bond Management and he got me the opportunity to do a trial at Schalke. I impressed Norbert [Elgert] and he wanted to bring me out so I came to Schalke.

“When the opportunity came to sign the contract it was a no-brainer and it was a decision that I don’t regret at all and that I am happy I made.”

At first he joined Schalke’s U19 side where he scored three goals in 17 games as his side finished 6th in the A-Junioren Bundesliga West.

During the Covid 19 pandemic Hoppe returned home to the US which gave him an opportunity to add more strength to his game.

“I was back home during the quarantine. I had four months to put on some weight and develop that side of my game.”

For the 2020/21 season Hoppe was moved up to Schalke’s B team. After just a few months playing in the Regionalliga he received the call into the first team.

“I was training with the U23s and the coach pulled me aside from there and said: you’re going to the first team tomorrow.”

The arrival of a hero

The 19-year-old joined a senior team who were without a league win in 25 games.

In November 2020 Hoppe made his debut inside an empty BORUSSIA-PARK in a 4-1 defeat to Borussia Monchengladbach.

Speaking after the game Hoppe said: “I was obviously surprised [to start] but I was ready. I’ve been dreaming of this moment and by the grace of God I was given this opportunity and I’m very happy for it.

“It was an amazing experience. The most challenging thing was trying to hold up the ball. It’s a lot more physical in the Bundeliga.

Matthew Hoppe would have to wait until the new year to make his next start in the Bundesliga against Hertha Berlin.

Again Schalke would lose, this time 3-0, but their fortunes would soon change when they faced Hoffenheim a week later.

Having struggled to pick up a win for 358 days they put Hoffenheim to the sword. Christian Gross’ men put four past Die Kraichgauer to end their run of 31 games without a win.

Three minutes from half-time Hoppe was played in-behind the Hoffenheim defence before delightfully dinking the ball over Oliver Baumann into the back of the net.

On 57 minutes Hoppe was again played through by Harit, and he once again demonstrated his composure to round the goalkeeper before firing home his second of the game.

It didn’t take long for him to complete his hat-trick. Six minutes later Hoppe was California Dreaming. Harit once again provided the assist as Hoppe cooly dinked the ball past Baumann once again to secure Schalke’s first league win for just short of a year.

The win also saw them climb from bottom of the table for the first time since November 2020.

Whilst the wins didn’t continue Hoppe’s goals did. Just six days later he scored again as Schalke returned to the foot of the table following a 3-1 loss at Eintracht Frankfurt.

Fast forward another three days and he was on the scoresheet again, this time in a 2-1 home loss against Köln.

By the end of the season The Royal Blues had only managed to achieve 16 points. In their only three wins of the season, Hoppe had managed to score four and provide one assist.

Gold cup success

Prior to the Gold Cup Hoppe had never played a game for the USA at any level. His burst onto the scene in Germany earned him a spot in Gregg Berhalter’s side for a friendly against Switzerland, but he never took to the field.

In the absence of Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna, Berhalter would call upon the 19-year-old to be a key part of his squad at the Gold Cup.

He was named in the starting line-up for the second group stage game agaisnt Martinique, earning him his first USMNT cap in the process.

Fourteen minutes into the game he set up the first goal. His cross from the left found the head of Daryl Dike who nodded home.

Having dropped to the bench against Canada he returned to the starting XI for the first knock out game against Jamaica.

With 83 minutes on the clock the game was still tied at 0-0. Queue the Hoppe heroics. With seven minutes to go he headed the USA into the semi-final.

Fans inside the AT&T stadium could see just how much his first international goal meant. “I just started screaming. I was going crazy” he said in a post game interview the game.

He didn’t score for the rest of the tournament but it didn’t matter. The US beat Qatar in semis before a dramatic final which saw them beat Mexico in extra-time.

Mallorca

Following his success at the Gold Cup and Schalke’s relegation Hoppe joined La Liga side Mallorca. However, this won’t be the American’s first taste of football in Spain.

Each season the best players at the Barca Residency Academy get invited to train at Barcelona’s world famous La Masia.

During his time in Catalunya Hoppe trained and played alongside Ansu Fati and impressed Barcelona’s youth coaches.

“He played in a scrimmage, and he did really well,” Kline recalls. “He hit the post and linked up really well with Fati. He really loved playing with those guys at La Masia.

Matthew Hoppe has already made his mark on the island in his limited playing time. He was handed his first start against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu.

Twenty five minutes into the game he provided an assist for fellow new signing Kang-in Lee.

Kline believes that a move to Spain is perfect for Hoppe to continue his development: “He will definitely have an adjustment period at the start because it’s a different style in Spain compared to Germany.

“One he gets his feet wet he’ll have more space on the field. As a number nine he’s very creative and he can drive at people. He can do really well.

“We will have to wait and see. It’s great for us to have our first player in La Liga, and it makes sense that he’s taken this path. I think he’s taking the right steps.

“He will get his chance like he did at Schalke and I’m sure he’ll take it.”

When asked about where the ceiling is for Matthew Hoppe, Kline answered: “A lot depends on every next step he takes. He’s made the jump to La Liga and every day is going to be a daily grind from now.

“Matthew is going to need to take advantage of the opportunities he gets and earn that starting spot. With that should come more national team call ups. He has one of the biggest hearts and love for the game that I’ve seen in players in general.

On 2 January, Hoppe will get to play against Barcelona, the club he has dreamt of signing for since a young age.

“It’s also our dream here at the academy,” Kline added. “For him to maybe eventually end up at Barcelona and complete the full cycle would be amazing. I don’t think he’s ready yet. But I do think that if he continues to grow at this rate, and in this trajectory that he’s on, absolutely he could join them in the future.”

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