Ricardo Pepi, mature beyond his years

Unless you saw Ricardo Pepi go over after Thursday's USA-Jamaica game in Austin to thank his family and its friends who had traveled from El Paso to watch him play, you might not have realized he is only 18 years old.

If you forget his USMNT jersey and the U.S. and FC Dallas jerseys his mom and dad and brother and sister were wearing, the scene looked like any 18-year-old Texan greeting family and friends after a big high school football game. Hugging his brother, the most excited, first, then his mom, dad and sister and going down the row to all the adoring girls.

Pepi's big game? After scoring one goal and assisting on two others in his international debut at Honduras on Sept. 8, Pepi followed that up with both goals for the USA in the 2-0 win over Jamaica that moved it into first place in the Octagonal.

Soccer America has been doing Player Ratings for almost 30 years, and never has a player gotten, to the best of our knowledge, a "9" in back-to-back games, let alone his or her first two international matches, like Pepi did against Honduras (Game Report) and Jamaica (Game Report).

Pepi's performance in his first two international matches has even U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter in awe.

"We're all excited. We're just sitting there, and we're on the train," Berhalter said after the win over Jamaica. "We're just observing everything that's happening. It's amazing. An 18-year-old gets an opportunity and takes advantage. What you see and what I really like is that he has this instinct, and it's really hard to teach that to players. He has an instinct to score."

Indeed, Pepi has the talent of all great goalscorers to finish his chances. Other attributes include strength, agility, anticipation, touch. But what stands out about Pepi is his maturity.

"It's about being patient," he said. "If you ask any striker, whenever you don't touch the ball or whenever you don't get a lot of opportunities, you just gotta stay ready for when you do get a chance."

If ever there was a game in which Pepi could have become impatient, this was it. He hardly saw the ball in the first half against Jamaica. In previous games, U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter had criticized his strikers for trying to come back to receive the ball. But Pepi resisted that temptation, hanging out on the edge of Jamaican line and waiting for his first chances.

Both goals came from where he needed to be: in and around the six-yard line. He dropped between two Jamaican defenders and flicked Sergino Dest's header inside the far post for the first goal, beating the great Andre Blake, MLS's best keeper over the last decade and a big reason Jamaica reached the Gold Cup final in 2015 and 2017. On the second goal, Pepi darted in to slide Brenden Aaronson's pass past Blake.

Pepi, who had the sense to stick to his positioning, makes everything look easy even when it shouldn't be. After the game, Berhalter admitted he was concerned about all the minutes Pepi had played for FC Dallas recently and how last week he looked exhausted.

"Yeah, it was difficult to be able to maintain, just being physically ready," said Pepi, who exited in the 68th minute, shortly after he scored his second goal. "But it was a special moment for me and for the team. I feel like we needed these three points and we went out there and we pulled it off."

A lot has come quickly for Pepi. Until mid-June, he was not even a regular starter for FC Dallas. Then he broke out with seven goals over the next month. By the end of August, Pepi was picked for the MLS All-Star Game and asked to make a decision: USA or Mexico?

"I feel like I worked just to be able to be on the squad," Pepi said. "Being able to represent my country, I feel like I made a big decision and, like I said when I made my decision, I was going to give my all to the team, and that's what I'm doing."

Has it come all too quick?

"I feel like it's coming, I don't know if it's too fast or if it's too slow, but I feel like it's coming," he said. "Whatever is going to come is going to come, so I just have to be ready for it and be prepared."

Spoken like a young man mature beyond his years.

11 comments about "Ricardo Pepi, mature beyond his years".
  1. Kent James, October 9, 2021 at 1:38 a.m.

    He's certainly done well.  I just hope we don't overwhelm him with expectations.  

  2. Brian Cameron replied, October 9, 2021 at 9:25 a.m.

    I couldn't agree more. We tend to want to put the weight of our soccer expectations for the one US megastar that will bring results to USMNT and recognition to the US for its talent pool, yet the players often are not ready for it.

  3. Donald Lee replied, October 9, 2021 at 12:59 p.m.

    Kent -- your exactly right.  The pundits and us soccer fans will expect way too much then attack him when he doesn't deliver.  Its the American way.

  4. John Sabala, October 9, 2021 at 6:12 a.m.

    He possesses tremendous potential. Unlike what the announcers were saying during the game broadcast, Pepi needs to get into a European club to grow his game to the levels that are possible for him.  He will learn from better coaches, better systems and much better competition (even in practice) than just playing with FC Dallas in the MLS.  His entire game with back to goal is that of an 18 year old.  Of the strikers in our pool, the most complete striker is Sargeant. He can play with back to goal, turns easily can lay off and can beat the back line in a sprint.  I agree with comments from another post that if Sargeant was playing the Jamaica game, he gets the goals Pepi scored and the one Zardes missed.  Pepi needs the right club now to move forward.  I think he can be our best striker in a few years.

  5. Donald Lee replied, October 9, 2021 at 1:05 p.m.

    And there we have it.  The anti-MLS/USSF spin doctor shows up to serve their master Rocco Comisso.  

    There is nothing more insipid than saying something like "If player A was there he does everything Pepi did AND more!!"   Unprovable and totally rediculous.   


  6. John Sabala replied, October 9, 2021 at 1:49 p.m.

       Really Donald,
    MLS is great for those players that fit the make up for their teams.  I am not anti-MLS, but if you follow any soccer anywhere else, MLS is at most 2nd division anywhere in Europe.  Pepi scored because of the impeccable service he received.  Sargeant was scoring in World Cups for the US youth teams when Pepi was still in the academy.  Don't get me wrong, the academies are some of the best things happening to grow men's soccer in the US with college teams on the downhill. The issues with labor laws and such to really get players with this type of talent to places that are just better soccer cultures.  As I stated in previous posts Pepi did his job.  His overall play in the game removing the two goals would give him a rating of 5 or 4.  With the goals I give him a 6.  Poor touches, terrible back to goal play, he had the one layoff from midfield, nothing around the box. Did not help with the build up. So look at it objectively about how he actually played the entire game.  Better defenses will chew him up in the WC.  We will not be playing #50 and higher ranked teams.  

  7. Santiago 1314 replied, October 9, 2021 at 8:05 p.m.

    The BEST Striker, IS THE ONE THAT IS SCORING.!!!... Regardless of Age, Team, League... USA should Ride the Train as Long as it can... You never know when a Striker is going to Score or "Dissapear"... It's a Mystery, Wrapped in an Enigma.!!!

  8. Christopher Tierney replied, October 10, 2021 at 12:36 a.m.

    Man...I disagree mightily.  JS is not a good passer...or has not shown it of late.  He is not in the team for a reason.  He has likely been passed.  The new normal for the USMNT...kids will have to take advantage of the opportunity, lots of options now, and guessing much more difficult in 3-4 years.  The Academy system is working / yielding lots of talented players.

  9. frank schoon, October 9, 2021 at 8:58 a.m.

    I'm not going to judge Pepi as player, as yet, for I haven't seen much of him and right now I'm not all that impressed, relatively.  Remember Edu, (the next Pele) or Bobby ? , that later played for Reading in England , he was suppose the next big US star. Lets hold off on the enthusiasm, PLEAZZZE!!

    You want to see a 19year old upcoming star, Dragan Dzajic back in 1972. Take at a look at him, he's #11. Watch how he conducts himself ,his poise with a ball, he PRESENCE on the field and watch how he handles players 1v1. 

    Dragan dzajic playing for yugoslavia only 19 years old by ivan pobran. - YouTube

  10. John Sabala replied, October 9, 2021 at 9:43 a.m.

    Got love showing our age Frank.  YUGOSLAVIA, a country that does not exist anymore and places I deployed as a soldier to help bring peace and end genocide.  Player development under Tito and the communist regime. Intersting to say the least.  My statement say he has tremendous potential but needs to get to better playing environments to really untap it.  Edu had too many issues mentally. Like MC Hammer, listening to all the wrong people.

  11. frank schoon replied, October 9, 2021 at 10:36 a.m.

    The problem here is we jump to quickly on the enthusiastic bandwagon when we see a possible talent.  The problem is soccer journalists don't give a better picture of the player, it's all cheerleading, nothing introspective and we here lack expertise in that dept. as whole when it comes to soccer. In Holland, our culture is very analytical ,so we judge players more on what they can and can't do. We all accept a new talent, but at the same time ,the press, the pundits, players, retired players , coaches will give a better idea  what this kid is capable of, his weaknesses and what he should be working on. 

    Van Basten , when Cruyff was coach at Ajax, would come home from practice crying. He was a talent ,then. He stated that he was constantly told what he was doing wrong, but it made him the player he became. It is drilled into you, that everything you do has to have a reason, therefore you need to know ahead what you need to do..That is the analytical part of the dutch culture...I wish we had more of that introspection , for example , during the game here by commentators, former players, like we do in Holland. It would definitely educate the public here on the finer elements of the game...

    Forgotten Footballers ~ Dragan Dzajic - YouTube           

    Enjoy this John, video. at 1min. 14sec ,he nutmegs the same opponent 2x . 

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