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.