FC Dallas has a reputation for producing tons of high-quality players from their youth academy. From a player like Paxton Pomykal making waves in Major League Soccer, to a superstar like Weston McKennie excelling for Juventus and establishing himself as a key part of the U.S. Men’s National Team, FC Dallas has an influence on top level soccer all over the world.
The latest prodigy from their famed youth system is Ricardo Pepi, the 17-year-old forward who came on to score a game tying goal in the 93rd minute of FC Dallas’s penalty shootout win over the Portland Timbers.
A native of El Paso, Texas, Pepi signed as a homegrown player in June of 2019, shortly after making his debut for the club in a U.S. Open Cup match against the Oklahoma City Energy. He showed plenty of promise against the USL side, picking up an assist and playing well overall in a 4-0 victory. He debuted in MLS later that year, but didn’t end up scoring his first goal for the club until March of 2020, in the team’s final game before COVID-19 shut the entire league down.
Pepi ended up starting four games this season, but he mostly played as a substitute, scoring two goals and grabbing an assist along the way. He came on in the 85th minute of Sunday night’s contest with Dallas down 1-0 and he managed to make his mark fairly quickly.
“I came into the game thinking I was going to make a difference and I did.,” Pepi said after the game.
The difference he made was getting behind the Portland defense off a long headed pass, taking an initial shot that got palmed off the post by goalkeeper Steve Clark, and, instead of celebrating prematurely or burying his head in frustration, followed up the near miss and tapped in the rebound.
“It’s a big game in my career,” Pepi said after the game. “Obviously, getting the opportunity to help the team stay in the game, score the game-tying goal, stay in the playoffs, continue to the next round, it was a very important moment for me. When I scored the goal, it brought be a lot of joy and happiness.”
Pepi also stepped up and buried his attempt in the fourth round of the penalty shootout, showing he can keep his head clear when the pressure is truly ramped up.
FC Dallas head coach Luchi Gonzalez, who directed the team’s youth academy when they signed Pepi back in 2016, saw the game as a small glimpse of what is possible for the 17-year-old forward.
“He’s a young man that’s worked really hard through the youth program and Academy,” head coach Luchi Gonzalez said. “He’s always been humble and hard working. He doesn’t depend on his natural talent, he tries to show a great mentality to learn and be patient and give everything in his opportunity. And tonight was a product of that and I know he’s still going to learn a lot more and he has a great future.”
Pepi will probably be another bench option in the Western Conference semifinals against either the Seattle Sounders or Los Angeles FC. It’s a role that suits him at the moment and Sunday showed that he’s capable of weathering the pressure of late game situations that require fire inside and a cool head on the outside.
“He certainly showed that he can step in at the biggest stage in a pressure moment when we need it most and deliver,” Gonzalez continued. “So I think it’s just the beginning for a player who’s going to support this club and have a career in this league.”