It was always going to take something special for Schalke 04 to avoid equalling an embarrassing record at the weekend. The club had not won in the Bundesliga for almost a year, a total of 30 matches, and failure to beat Hoffenheim would have seen them equal Tasmania Berlin’s league record (set back in 1965-66) of 31 games without a win. Thanks to Matthew Hoppe, they avoided such ignominy.
Hitherto a relative unknown, the 19-year-old American scored an astonishing hat trick (the first by a U.S. player in the Bundesliga), which gave Schalke a 4-0 win over Hoffenheim and even lifted them off the foot of the table.
In only his third start for the club, the striker became an overnight sensation, so here’s the lowdown on the Bundesliga’s newest star.
Where has he come from?
Having just turned 18, Hoppe sealed his move to Schalke on July 1, 2019 following two prolific years playing with the Arizona-based U.S. Barcelona Residency Academy in the (now defunct) U.S. Soccer Development Academy league.
After joining up with U.S. international midfielder Weston McKennie (who has since moved on loan to Juventus) in Germany, Hoppe spent his first year playing for Schalke’s U-19s, for whom he scored three goals in 17 games, before being promoted to the club’s second team, which plays in the fourth level of German league football, ahead of the current campaign.
Though he only had one goal in 16 games in the Regionalliga West for Schalke II before making the step up to the first team, Hoppe has since amassed 302 minutes across six games in the Bundesliga and DfB Pokal. And, of course, he has three goals.
Given his physical profile and skillset — Hoppe is 6-foot-2 tall, athletic and powerful — he moulded into an out-and-out centre-forward once he reached his mid-teenage years and after scoring nearly 60 goals in two seasons prior to leaving the U.S., it was clear that position was his best chance of making a career as a professional, on either side of the Atlantic.
That said, he was occasionally utilised on either side of midfield for Schalke II and, while his performances in Schalke’s youth and second team showed promise, his form gave no indication of the incredible impact to come against Hoffenheim.
With such little first team experience — or even any meaningful record from high-level youth football, and no appearances to date for the U.S. national teams at youth level — it’s still early to make any strong predictions about where Hoppe’s career is ultimately heading.
However, while a memorable hat trick (and all the media attention it brings) could heap pressure on some young players, the California-born youngster seems to have the mental side of his game in order. New Schalke coach Christian Gross was quick to point out his excellent attitude after his stunning performance against Hoffenheim. Indeed, it was precisely that mentality which made Gross opt for Hoppe to start such an important game.
That praise is echoed by those who have kept a close eye on Hoppe throughout his early career; his dedication, humility and willingness to learn are second to none and those qualities translate into industry and graft on the pitch.
Hoppe’s enthusiasm is contagious; no ball ever seems lost and his off-the-ball running is executed with conviction that, along with his ability to time runs on the right side of the offside line, proved vital against Hoffenheim. Unlike many strikers, he’s happy to close down opponents, tackle and do his pressing duties.
Whereas many 19-year-olds appear gangly and skinny, Hoppe is neither. His body strength appears well-developed, though it will be interesting to see if his potential to dominate in the air can be backed up with good heading technique.
On the evidence of the Hoffenheim game, Hoppe looks to have rediscovered his finishing skills from youth football. The opening goal — a delightful chip with his weaker left foot (he also scored another with his left) — was not only exquisite in its execution, but a bold and confident way for a teenager to finish off an attack.
It goes without saying that Hope needs time to develop the facets that can help him become a well-rounded, complete centre-forward. His timing in the air is still a work in progress, while his first touch will also improve as the Schalke coaching staff teach him the value of holding the ball up, helping the team and causing a nuisance even when he’s not facing the goal
Having cited Tottenham’s Harry Kane as his earliest inspiration and becoming an admirer of Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski and, especially, Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland since arriving in Germany, Hoppe models himself on these talented, industrious stars.
With size and power, his fearless approach and startling impact mean it is inevitable he will be compared to Haaland especially. And if he can continue to show the work ethic and level-headedness of the Norwegian striker, despite his new-found celebrity, Hoppe has a chance of going on to achieve great things.