Haji Wright scores twice in extra time, US beats Jamaica 3-1 to reach CONCACAF Nations League final

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United States' Haji Wright, right, shoots a goal in front of Jamaica's Joel Latibeaudiere during the first overtime half of a CONCACAF Nations League semifinals soccer match, Thursday, March 21, 2024, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

ARLINGTON, Texas – Haji Wright was at an airport in England last weekend about to leave for Dubai during the international break when his phone rang. U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter asked him to replace injured Josh Sargent on the American roster.

“My whole family’s here. My agent’s already there and my girlfriend’s going — she planned the whole thing,'” Berhalter remembered Wright telling him.

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“I know you got your parents, the bags are packed and you’re at the airport, but just think about it for 10 minutes and give me a call back,” the coach said.

“He called me back and he said, `I’m in.' And when I heard that, it really shows what type of guy he is, what type of character he is," Berhalter added.

The United States escaped defeat with an own goal in the sixth minute of second-half stoppage time, Wright scored twice in extra time and the Americans rallied past Jamaica 3-1 Thursday night to reach the CONCACAF Nations League final against Mexico.

Greg Leigh scored 30 seconds in for the 57th-ranked Reggae Boyz, and the No. 13 Americans were on the verge of losing their third straight match. Instead, Wright scored in the sixth and 19th minutes of extra time and the U.S. will try to win the Nations League for the third straight time on Sunday.

“I’m a professional player. This is my job, so I was immediately excited when he called me,” said Wright, whose extra time goal last weekend lifted Coventry City to an FA Cup quarterfinal.

His family went on to Dubai, and his mother texted him after the game.

Both of Wright's goals were set up by Gio Reyna, who entered at the start of the second half after being limited to 42 minutes over four substitute appearances for Nottingham Forest since he was loaned from Borussia Dortmund on Jan. 31. Reyna spoke to media with the U.S. team for the first time since the World Cup, when Berhalter almost sent him home for lack of hustle in training, and Reyna's family notified the U.S. Soccer Federation of a decades old domestic-violence incident involving the coach. Berhalter was replaced by assistant coaches for much of 2023, then rehired.

“Obviously what happened, happened" Reyna said, "but I think both of us are so far past it and just so focused on the group that it’s not even an issue at all anymore, and we’re just so far past it.”

Four minutes of second-half stoppage time originally were signaled by Honduran referee Selvin Brown and later five, and the clock was at 5:25 when Christian Pulisic’s corner kick to the near post was headed across by Miles Robinson. The ball deflected off Jamaican forward Corey Burke and past goalkeeper Andre Blake, the latest goal for the Americans since Ricardo Clark scored in the seventh minute of stoppage time to beat Venezuela 1-0 in a 2012 exhibition.

“We feel that the game was finished before this corner came,” Jamaica coach Heimir Hallgrímsson said.

Wright had not played for the U.S. since scoring in the 3-1 loss to the Netherlands that eliminated the Americans from the 2022 World Cup. He entered in the 63rd minute and scored after the ball was knocked away from Pulisic. Reyna picked up the ball just past the center circle and side-footed a through ball to Wright, who cut left to create space and slotted with his left foot past Blake.

Then Reyna won a ball from Keroy Anderson and made another incisive pass through the defense. Wright spun to control the ball and scored from 8 yards with his right foot or his fourth goal in eight international appearances.

“When I made that eye contact, I know he has the ability to find me,” Wright said.

Leigh put Jamaica ahead after a throw-in deflected off Antonee Robinson to Fulham teammate Bobby De Cordova-Reid, who lofted the ball past Chris Richards and across the goal. Leigh was left unmarked by Joe Scally and headed the ball between goalkeeper Matt Turner and the post for his first goal in 13 international appearances.

“It was a poor play by a number of players,” Berhalter said.

Scally started at right back in place of Sergiño Dest, suspended because of his ejection for arguing with the referee against Trinidad and Tobago in November.

There was a sparse crowd for the first half at AT&T Stadium, where Mexico beat Panama 3-0 in the second game of the doubleheader.

With the U.S. in new red, white and blue uniforms, defender Robinson was the only American starter from Major League Soccer.

Tyler Adams entered in the 63rd in his first appearance since the 2022 World Cup after recovering from a torn right hamstring that twice needed surgery. Restricted to limited playing time as he regains fitness, Adams complained to Berhalter when he was removed 10 minutes into extra time.

“I could have played 90 minutes, if you asked me. Everyone wants to hold me back,” Adams said. “It was a smart move long-term, and I accept that."

Jamaica was missing many of its top players. Michail Antonio, Leon Bailey and Trivante Stewart were not with the team and Demarai Gray and Shamari Nicholson were suspended. The U.S. had 77% possession and a 25-6 advantage in shots.

“The pregame talk is the normal CONCACAF speech, right? It's not going to be easy, guys. It’s going to be a very difficult game,” Berhalter said. “And I think somewhere along the line it goes in one of the ears and then out the other one. They don’t really understand it.”

Notes: Mexico got goals from Edson Álvarez in the 40th minute, Julián Quiñones in the 43rd and Orbelín Pineda in the 67th. Quiñones, who was born in Colombia and became a Mexican citizen in October, scored his first international goal. It was originally ruled offside but was reversed in a video review.


AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer

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