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Ricardo Pepi on accepting USMNT call-up: “I felt the USA trusts me”

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Ricardo Pepi has accepted a call-up to the U.S. men’s national team’s upcoming World Cup qualifying camp, and the dual-national credited USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter with convincing him it was the right decision to make.

The 18-year-old FC Dallas striker is enjoying a breakout season in MLS, and is coming off scoring the winning penalty kick in Wednesday’s MLS All-Star Game, and his eligibility to play for the United States and Mexico had turned Pepi into the latest prospect caught in the tug-of-war between Concacaf giants.

Conflicting reports emerged on Wednesday night about which country Pepi would play for, but the USMNT’s roster announcement on Thursday confirmed that the El Paso, Texas native is ready to play for the United States.

“I want to start by saying that I am a Mexican-American and that I am super proud of my heritage,” Pepi told FCDallas.com. “It’s something that will never be taken away from me, no matter what national team I play for. I made this decision because I felt the USA trusts me and I think that’s due to (USMNT head coach) Gregg Berhalter and how he emphasized this to me.

“I had good talks with Gregg and I feel I can make an impact with the USA and help this national team really do something special now and in the future.”

Accepting the training camp invite won’t cap-tie Pepi to the United States, and neither would playing in the September World Cup qualifiers. Under FIFA’s revised rules on dual national eligibility, Pepi could theoretically play in all three September qualifiers and still be eligible for a change-of-association to switch over to Mexico.

Pepi will join a USMNT with a bit of an open competition for the striker position. Josh Sargent and Jordan Pefok have emerged as the leading options, but neither has taken full command of the starting role. Pepi should have an opportunity to compete for minutes, though playing his way into a prominent role for September’s qualifiers is likely a long shot.

Pepi is in the midst of a breakout season with FC Dallas, having scored nine goals in 2021, most by an American in MLS this season (tied with C.J. Sapong).

As Pepi embarks on his first USMNT camp, he will be reunited with former U.S. Under-17 World Cup teammates Gio Reyna and George Bello, and Berhalter will be hoping that it is an experience that convinces Pepi to stay in the USMNT fold for good.

Comments

  1. Don’t know why people are complaining about who we “lost”…none of them were world beaters. You win some and you lose some. But our “wins” are much better than our “losses” lately. Ochoa, Alvarez, Gonzalez, Akinola, etc. are all sub-standard to the dual nationals that Gregg DID get to commit. Like Dest. Like Musah. Like Pefok. Like Pepi. And there will be more to come. Balogen is a real possibility. As is Tillman for Bayern. This is not like in the past where we were losing elite talent like Rossi or Subotic.

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  2. Many interesting perspectives here. It’s a good conversation and I guess I can’t “take sides”. .
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    My two cents? Despite this very nice success with Pepi, it still seems that counting on whoever the current senior USMNT coach is to “win” these kinds of recruiting showdowns with Mexico is always likely to be an unfavorable battle under our current circumstances and approach. We need to do a better job earlier in the game, and the outreach needs to start early and be more comprehensive. Overcoming family biases is a very tall order…. Waiting until we are relying on things like phone calls, late-stage camps, and senior call-up timing just isn’t going to give us a sustainable competitive position. Too late in the game when it comes to Mexican-Americans. We’ll lose more than we win, no matter who is doing the final-stage recruiting. Probably comes down to increased investment, and focus on the little things (such as more Spanish-language outreach). I understand this is happening and that’s good. But it will not happen overnight.
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    The other best thing that could happen? Def requires some luck, but I think it would be a really powerful thing if we could finally find a Mexican-American (or three) who becomes a bona-fide star for the USMNT. Look at any list of the “Top 25-50 USMNT Players Ever” and it’s actually quite baffling how few Mexican-American players there are. For whatever reason, it just hasn’t happened, despite the immense interest in the sport amongst the large population of Mexican-Americans here. We’ve had German-Americans, Uruguyan-Americans etc. achieve star status here, but mostly the Mexican Americans we’ve had were credible role-players or fringe prospects. It’s not like we’ve “lost out” on somebody who eventually became a mega-star. But it sure would be nice if we had somebody for these kids to latch onto at a young age as a hero or role model while they are developing. Not saying Pepi is the guy, but jeez that would be helpful!

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  3. The reason the US could lose more is that we are creating more than a manager could realistically play. If Arena, Bradley, or JK were in this situation they’d lose just as many and likely even more. In the past the Mexican development system was producing better players at a younger age, the DA and MLS Academies are now producing quality pros at younger ages so Mexico is willing to take these players on when 15 years ago they weren’t interested in college trained players that were older and less technical than their homegrown. Pepi might be the first Mexican American that chose the US with a viable Mexican option. I’m sure I’ll miss someone but Castillo, Corona, Torres, Orozco, and Yarborough had been basically told we’re not interested by El Tri. I’m sure someone with more historical background could come up with youth players that choose Mexico but didn’t pan out so they’re forgotten. Also it’s only been what 10 years since someone can switch after playing YTs.
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    Did Soto announce he’s leaving why are you bringing him up? Araujo may still leave but he’s suddenly slowed down and at least thinking about it until October? Don’t think these other players didn’t notice Tata followed your plan and snuck Efra into his 4th cap for 7 mins to lock him in and then never played him the last 4 matches of GC and didn’t call him for qualifying.

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  4. i should be attaboying the coach for finally doing it right — although quali is a late and awkward time to be locking in players. i think what riles me is we lost several to get to here, and listening to people talking about the coach like a genius for losing the most i have ever seen as opposed to someone riding the best talent pool i have ever seen, which will better tolerate this kind of breakage he has. imagine if a half dozen dual nationals walked on previous coaches…..you only get away with this because we have 20-jillion to burn right now….doesn’t make it proficient or efficient.

    like i said, if he’s finally figuring out how to do things, how to sell the pepis, great. like he’s figuring out don’t use his system, drop his favorites, everything else he’s learning on the job for a paycheck….

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  5. IV – you’re really upset about Akinola and Soto? Akinola had 0% chance of going to Qatar with US, assuming US makes it but a good chance of going with Canada who has a legitimate shot and he would likely get to play in meaningful qualifiers. Of course he would pick Canada. Efrain swithed to Mexico in 2017 before GB was coach and played 35 games for their youth teams between 2017 and 2019. He already switched. At a minimum, he wouldn’t play ahead of Pulisic, Reyna, Aaronson, or McKennie who are all barely older than him. You might argue Aaronson but I probably rate him higher than you do; the other 3 are clear though. He would always have a tough path finding the feild. Pepi has a better chance of going to Qatar with the US than Mexico so if he goes to camp and thinks he can beat out those players, he will pick the US juat like Ochoa has a chance to go to Qatar with Mexico but probably not with the US. How far down the depth chart is Soto and you are worried about him picking Chile?

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      • by that i mean the guy with 1 cap 1 goal since you seem confused. people seem similarly confused about the 2 caps 2 goals soto as well. guess we don’t need the ones who score goals, we can depend on zardes, dike, and see if sargent scores his first goal in 2 years. can we quit pretending 9 is set? half of you didn’t know pefok existed before june. and literally no one past that is a lock. but you were turning your noses skyward at other options, sorry i interrupted….

        while i am at it, when you are trying to play for the USNT the question is can you score goals for the USNT and people seem to confuse proxy club scouting stats with a history of doing so in the correct shirt. wondo? twellman? it doesn’t always translate…..

    • Pepi is so young and promising- still developing talent- very glad he’s with us. Can I add maybe the factor of highlighting that an affinity- deep connection with culture is separate than nationaility- Americaness? That an individual with emotional ties to Mexican culture is EVERY bit as American as the dudes marching in the St Patrick’s day parade?And welcome and nurtured in our country and team? IMO-That feeling can only help the nation and future duel nationals.

      Bummed to see Ochoa go as he is so young as a keeper and has a very high ceiling. Seems his decision was a bit short-sighted- one of impulsive, emotional youth. I get it- I was 19 once. Araujo is a talent- would suck… but seems he is being more measured- no need for him to choose just yet. Personally- I respect GB’s approach highlighted with Efrain who was clearly torn. That GB’s position is one of integrity- to treat the player as a human being rather than a commodity- to present and sell the team, his desire to have you- while respecting the person and the complexity and long term affects of such a decision. Doing such will sometimes hurt in the short term- but I believe integrity wins out in the long term with the over-all tenor of a team as one of trust and respect. Robbie Robinson seems to have slipped through the cracks to Chile. Ahhhh- the pit-falls of a fast growing talent stream. 😉

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      • all due respect but i have been suggesting “fast lane” a list of other people for 2 years. quali is a weird time to suddenly get religion on that idea. how about when the games don’t count? but in any event, my beef is more the half dozen he’s losing (or more), because only pepi, dest, and musah get the fast lane.

        “commodification” is a lame characterization. these players by definition are the ones with a choice. you can sell that choice. or you can sit back and let it happen. imagine you are a college coach recruiting. guess which strategy works better? you would get eaten alive saying “look at them, look at us, i can’t promise you anything about your role here until you play, and i won’t rush your cap at all.” when the other team is offering a quali cap next week and you’re like, well, not ready yet, who do you think wins that? and before you get all arrogant, both teams are likely trying to guess what they are 3-5 years from now. one team acts like they care, the other doesn’t. who do you think wins that? where did ochoa go when he said he didn’t feel welcomed?

        to be fair, GB seems to have learned from ochoa and co. pepi talks like he got sold on the team and not just invited to look at both dealerships and make his own decision. that would be growth. my beef is just in about 10 different ways this guy seems to be learning basic international soccer coaching 101 on the job. your system doesn’t work. your idea of who can play is wrong. your approach to dual national recruitment is lazy and the least effective at winning contests i have seen (we usually lose 1-2 guys a cycle). this one he did right, but during quali and a bit late.

      • Can’t say I’m incomplete lock-step with any person or organization. Obviously- it’s entirely possible- common to disagree with some things a person does, while also acknowledging the things you agree with. I’d say doing so adds credibility. If you think someone did something correectly- it’s never a bad idea to give credit where it is due. When giving credit where it is due- it’s rather poor form- counter to the whole point to include a long series of asterisks rehashing old grievances. I’m happy about the outcome with Pepi. In my opinion- credit is due. End of story. Here’s to this being a long trend!

  6. Got my answer
    If he appears in one qualifier for us, he must wait three years and have no other appearances for US in those three years before applying for a switch to Mexico.

    He could appear in all three matches and still decide to switch. If he earns a fourth cap during qualifying he would no longer be able to switch and be officially “cap-tied”.

    Essentially with this acceptance of a spot on the roster (and assuming he makes at least one appearance), it puts his next possible availability to play with Mexico in September of 2024, after he files a one-time switch.

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    • yeah, people leave that part out. you can play 3 games before age 21 if you don’t play in the world cup or gold cup. but “3 games” doesn’t apply if >21 or world cup/gold cup capped. and “3 games” also means a 3 year hiatus to switch. in practical terms if you’re left off the qualifying roster to start accumulating games, and you then don’t make gold cup or world cup, you could switch next cycle sometime. in practical terms more like how boyd joined.

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      • gold cup would have still cap tied people which is why i go ballistic how the summer got handled on dual nationals. i also think too many people are approaching this like timid lawyers as opposed to coaches selling the team. if you identify the right people, sell them on their chances, and get them playing, the legalese becomes a formality. if you are lackidaisical in terms of salesmanship or even letting them trial with both, yeah, you need to worry about the language of the rules. if you make people feel wanted and included then the rules are a formality. that being said, anyone with a brain legally cinches the deal as soon as they can — just to be sure.

      • also, i don’t care what the rules say, there is a moral force to getting people in camp, capped, and playing. over about 30 years tchani was the only one i can remember who got senior capped then switched back out. 3 games might be a legal limit but 1-2 caps often enoughmight practically do the job.

      • Who has the US lost in GBs tenure that has you upset? Do you want him to cap tie people just so US doesn’t have to face them or because you want them to play for the US. Forcing kids to make a decision they may regret at such a young age IMO isn’t too cool. How many people get an opportunity to participate in a world cup? I am happy for a dual national to get to go to a world cup with another country if that is there best opportunity. There is a huge pool of players for US to choose from and if you lose some people others will come through the pipeline. GB may share my opinion while you probably don’t. Your goal might not be his goal.

      • are we going to play this game? really? akinola already went to canada, when we still don’t have striker sorted out. efrain, promising mid, winter camp here, back to mexico. ochoa, good keeper, who was on the nations league team, already went to mexico. rumors we will lose araujo to mexico, meh, but we’re still figuring out RB. rumors other teams are sniffing around soto and other players. he gets away with it due to the sheer volume of talent. meanwhile, how many times did we play yeuill dike zardes yedlin roldan and a mess of other players who aren’t exactly amazing at this point. make fun of me all you want but GB is fairly hard line on this and losing an unusual amount of players. it’s usually like one subotic a cycle, not a list.

      • Akinola?????? You gotta be trolling with that one. He has zero shot on making on the USMNT team. He wasn’t even starting on Canada Gold Cup team and thats without their best forwards.

      • Yes, we’ve lost and will lose some in the race for Duals. In the bunch listed do you feel any would have been contenders this cycle? Hard to predict the future but we have/are doing much better in the recruiting game. Akinola was featured in our youth system leading up to a recent Camp in 12/20. Ochoa would have to contend with 2 solid gk’ers plying their trade in solid league, albeit not seeing much of the pitch yet, but was in our Olympics, youth, and even NL camps. Araujo is looking down the ever growing list of young RB options, but was included in every youth level starting at U15s through Seniors. Efrain has been with the Mexican youth nats since U15s. To me, Ochoa is probably the biggest loss, but none of these players were lost from a lack of trying (maybe Efrain). Most grew up in our youth nats and even saw callups recently. For their own personal reasons they made the switch. And we’ll lose more down the line as well. Saying that I saw a photo on Twitter yesterday showing 18 of our 26 callups were able to represent another nation. IDK. We will win some, we will lose some

      • all due respect dude but historically the US only ever loses like 1-2 players a cycle. in theory we could lose many. we never do. make excuses for this all you want. historically we get all the nguyens and whatnot we want. we rarely lose a subotic. until this term tchani was the only actual switch. you don’t want to admit this is subpar, fine. it is true there is some breakage. not this much.

        y’all are exaggerating how settled we are at 9 and mid. we probably came close to calling zardes, and did call lletget and roldan. we valued ochoa over turner when this summer started. revisionist history……

      • It seems easy to forget just how many dual nationals we lost before Berhalter and how painful they were. Like Rossi. And Jonathan Gonzalez. We will always win some and lose some, but this group seems to be doing a pretty good job if you look at it from an unbiased perspective.

      • The reason the US never lost more than 1-2 dual national players per cycle in the past was simply that there were not that many who were good enough to play for the other national teams. I suppose Claudio Reyna was and Pulisic was but I don’t think they ever realistically thought of playing for anyone other than the US. Is anyone really upset that Alex Roldan is playing for El Salvadore? The US will “lose” more fringe players simply because the players want a chance to play Internationally and they have little realistic chance of playing for the US.

        This business of trying to cap-tie every teenager who shows some potential on the chance they will be stars of the future is pretty much trying to predict the future. OTOH, when teenagers demonstrate, like Pepi has, that they are good enough now it does make sense.

  7. So if Pepi plays in anyone of the three WC qualifiers and then wants to switch to Mexico he then has to wait three years and not play for the USA for three years as well?

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