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The USMNT should call up Ricardo Pepi, even if he’s not ready to be cap-tied


Ricardo Pepi is riding high. The FC Dallas striker is scoring goals, having fun, and the images of his wide smile at the MLS All-Star Game festivities this week show a player full of confidence, enjoying moment and embracing his blossoming stardom.

The 18-year-old will take part in Wednesday’s All-Star Game, and will return to FC Dallas soon after, and if U.S. men’s national team head coach Gregg Berhalter is on his game, Pepi should follow that up with a trip to USMNT camp ahead of September’s World Cup qualifiers.

Pepi told media in Los Angeles this week that he isn’t ready to make a decision on his national team future yet — he is eligible to play for the USA and Mexico — but that should not deter Berhalter from extending the invitation, even if it it comes with the accepted parameters that Pepi won’t play in the qualifiers.

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Why have Pepi come to camp if he isn’t going to play? Consider it a chance to let him experience the USMNT setup and get a feel for it, while also reuniting with former U.S. Under-17 teammates Gio Reyna and Gianluca Busio (the above photo of Pepi was from his time with the U-17s). Berhalter did the same with Efrain Alvarez and Ayo Akinola last December, and while both players wound up choosing different national teams, it didn’t mean the gestures weren’t worth doing.

You could argue Berhalter did the same thing this summer with Yunus Musah and the Concacaf Nations League finals in June. Berhalter danced around his reasons for not playing Musah in the Nations League, but it was clear he wasn’t forcing the issue with a player who might not have been ready to be cap-tied, bringing him along anyway and allowing Musah to experience a memorable tournament victory.

Of course, Pepi could still turn down a USMNT invitation, much the same way Julian Araujo turned down a Gold Cup call-up from Berhalter, but extending the invite, and making the effort to show Pepi there is clear interest, is a must.

This isn’t just a case of trying to keep Pepi away from Mexico, calling the FC Dallas striker makes sense because he’s the most in-form American striker in MLS right now, and is just 18. He is currently tied with veteran Nashville SC striker C.J. Sapong for most goals by an American in MLS with nine.

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There is also the fact that the USMNT striker pool has been hit with the injury bug, with Gyasi Zardes now sidelined with a hamstring injury, and Matthew Hoppe not having played a single minute since the Gold Cup ended almost a month ago. That doesn’t mean Hoppe won’t still be called as a wide forward option, but if Berhalter is looking for an in-form striker playing regularly, Pepi fits the bill.

Josh Sargent and Jordan Siebatcheu are the top two striker options right now, but the spot for a third option is wide open, with Nicholas Gioacchini another possibility.

The good news is the upcoming USMNT camp was always going to be larger than normal due to the three qualifiers in the window, which means Berhalter has some cushion to bring an extra player, and Pepi should be that player if he is willing to accept the invitation, even if he isn’t yet ready to be cap-tied.

What do you think of Pepi’s situation? Think Berhalter should extend an invitation even if Pepi isn’t ready to commit to being cap-tied?


  1. The team is getting way more talented so it makes sense we will start loosing more duals who see they will not get playing time. I think that is a good thing, means this country is developing way more talent then can fit on 1 National team.

  2. Stu Holden just announced during halftime of the All-Star Game that Pepi is on the USMNT roster for the upcoming qualifiers. He also clarified that because he’s under 21, even if he plays all three competitive matches, he won’t be officially tied to the U.S., but it sure looks like a promising sign. I jumped up and celebrated in my living room.

    • I thought it was cool when I heard that also! Remember when we heard GB, and Earnie Stewart flew to Europe to meet with Dest? Earnie’s father was in the US military & mother is Dutch, similar to Dest. I like to see that happen for Pepi. Reyna his teammate of the same age is there, already. Let it be, like an ambassador, or something like that. Former players like Hercules Gomez, & Bocanegra, then Arriola who is also Mexican-American, speak to him from a ethnicity standpoint. …then have Dempsey come speak to him from a Texas standpoint. McKennie & Acosta are from the FCD academy. Pepi will be in Europe soon, I hope he realizes the connections he has with the USMNT. If he’s fluent in spanish, could affect his decision also. Case and point- Uly Llanez doesn’t speak Spanish, so he felt more comfortable with the US. Either way, I hope he goes with the Stars & Stripes!

  3. It’s simple; Invite him. If he wants to come with a restriction like not wanting to be cap tied tell him you want his commitment because he will be an important player for the US. Then see what happens.

  4. There were a LOT of great players volleying balls on goal last night against great keepers. He was doing the best. Not really a question.

    Who is the striker that is ahead of him? The starting stikers keeping him from getting even a call up…..Love to hear that answer.

    • The real questions is how is Dallas that successful in developing youth talent?

      Seems like they must have systems in place to identify potential for greatness AND develop it so well.

      • dallas has always had a strong club scene, we only won tournaments up there on top of our game. but they are now gathering the best players who would have been dispersed at several club teams. they obviously train them well because so many turn out decent. but they are also poaching some houston players eg richards cappis servania. last two of those were in our academy then magically in theirs. dallas would probably reframe the question as they have feeder teams all over the region and into mexico, ie, scouting and recruitment. and we only occasionally sign HGP and have given maybe 2 of them starter minutes ever. so hardly a magnet.
        to be fair, you want what works in MLS development to keep working, but at least some of it on top of their developmentals is their success gets them people from other teams. kind of like people want to sign with the college that won NCAA last year.

      • i doubt the bayern pipeline hurts one bit. you know if it goes well enough you are in that richards che pipeline. so not only do they sign and play a ton of HGP but there is even a bonus level.

      • I think FCD should have a nickname like ‘La Fabrica!’ (The factory). It’s not like people don’t already know but the academy also develops players who are quality MLS players like Zimmerman, Acosta, & Jacori Hayes. To IVs point, there’s a lot of players form outside of Texas in FCD -Chris Richards, Servania, Tessman are from Alabama! Pepi tho, well IMO, he’s real Texican! Cowboy hat and all! I like to see him called up.

    • Josh Sargent has scored four goals in five matches this season against competition significantly higher than what Pepi has faced. I’m all for bringing him in, but let’s not go overboard. People were all about Dike a month ago & he then proved he wasn’t ready. Pepi is in the same situation.

      • Josh Sargent scored. But those two against Bournemouth are exactly the same kinds of goals we deride Zardes about. And the one good chance he created on his own he sent into the upper deck. Josh is not efficient. That is a fact borne out in any statistical analysis out there. We need to see if Pepi is more ruthless. Because we need a striker who actually strikes some fear into our opponents. Otherwise they will focus on our wings, which is what we are seeing when Pulisic plays anyone decent. Bring Pepi in and see how he looks against Sargent. Maybe it can light a fire under Josh and get him to up his game…

  5. pulisic’s first cap was 9′ at the end of a 4-0 laugher qualifier with guatemala. while i would have taken care of these in the summer, the way to favor merit and results, but lock them down, is hide them away end of a 30 man camp and 23 man roster and if we get a big lead in a game, play them. up 3-0 the risk is minimal and you have rewarded 15 players of the 16 you can use on their merit. bend a little and cap tie someone with #16. but as i said ad nauseum other thread, GB’s history since dest is the other way, wouldn’t give musah 1′ in a regional to lock him up. so the better argument is probably play up he deserves it. which is a tough sell for most coaches in quali, where they want regular and reliable. response: that’s not going to be dike, dude. you tried relying on that and it didn’t work. to me it’s not like keeper or defense, if it doesn’t work it’s less likely to cost you a result, you just won’t get more goals for. and if you already have a decent 2+ lead, no big whoop.

    • Did you not read the article where Ives referenced Musah? Ives spells out a very logical reason why he didn’t play so why are you defaulting to the “Greg is an idiot” theory with zero evidence to back it up?

  6. To me it’s a no-brainer. Call him up and if he comes, let him decide if he plays or not. If he wants to play, put him in the last 10 minutes or so against El Salvador.

  7. I think he’ll turn down the call up. I mean if I were him I’d hold out and try to use my leverage for a World Cup spot. Keep people wanting as long as possible because as soon as you’re cap tied half the fan base will move on to the next hot prospect.

    • the ES Tag lane should be reserved for cars with 2+ riders. the bad juju of dest, to me, was we responded to threats and ambivalence rather than rewarded commitment. i do think we should fight for dual nationals, but the express lane should be for players who really badly want to be americans. both as a signal to the pool, and to promote the behavior we want. berhalter encourages team shopping and brinksmanship. “go to mexico/ canada camp, see what you think, come back, we’ll talk.” that puts pressure on you. ironically i think players respond faster to the ultimatum of, you tell me you want to be one of us, and i will cap you next week. if not, i will recruit someone else, i am not going to waste my time arguing with you, i will reward the ones eager to be americans.

      i think it’s pitiful how musah got handled because he’s excited to be here, didn’t do a bunch of press waffling and games, and still defends us even after how he was treated. that loyalty should be rewarded. he could easily be repping someone else. and i doubt he was going to lose us nations league.

      bend a little. jesus.

      • your rants about Dest and Musah are insane brother, the both of them are clearly having fun being and playing with the USMNT as Greg has endeared himself to the group, and that’s plain as the eye can see by the ay the players put it on the line for him. There is no evidence that Greg did Musah dirty, no one knows why he didn’t get a run out in Nations League and saying otherwise is all speculation and narratives. Like the writer of this article stated, it might have simply come down to Musah not wanting to be cap-tied just yet, but word in Spain before the NL was that Musah was not training well, was characterized as having an attitude problem, but more importantly hadn’t played a game in the weeks leading up to NL camp so do with that what you may! People can’t keep making insinuations about a situation they know nothing about, misinformation is rearing its ugly head in all walks of life nowadays, when what people need to be doing is their research before spreading myths

      • you’re making the same argument about musah that people are now on hoppe. musah had played all season. he would be game fit. you’re pretending they leave him off a couple weeks he is suddenly unfit and off form. if you ever played soccer you know that’s fake. you’re basically just xeroxing his club coach’s choices. since when is the NT coach’s job to imitate club coaches? just hire valencia’s coach, then. and you’re missing that my broader point was he was a regular for months and a wise team would have taken the opportunity to cap tie someone that involved. regardless of perceived form “that week.” club form crap is lame. “how did he play this week” shouldn’t decide how the NT treats you. that should be based on a longer term talent assessment unless you get hurt or can’t kick a ball straight for some reason. dempsey is dempsey whether spurs plays him or not. bored with deferring to europe all the time. musah was a healthy scratch. not sure how an ounce of that argument is fake news or misinformation.

      • i mean, pressing rewind, he was starting as recently as march, then out in june. that’s jacked. no way you’ll ever explain to me he falls apart that bad. the coach pays too much attention to club form.

        to be fair, i thought musah was really a wing and could use some work. i just think it’s zany to go from starting to i can’t even be bothered to cap tie you with a minute sub.

      • Why do you assume Musah wasn’t cap-tied strictly because Berhalter chose not to cap-tie him? Did it never dawn on you that Musah may have wanted to keep his options open, regardless of how much fun he was having, and Berhalter obliged?

    • but to me this should have all been resolved by this summer, and not in quali. half the problem is having left it this late it is now a choice of, we won’t call you, versus the other guy being also in quali and offering caps. it’s not just friendlies and the other guy by definition is saying come play qualifiers. this should already be resolved so we can use quali like quali. which the coach may do anyway but without having CYA.

      • Got it. Greg is supposed to make player decisions to make you, or other fans, happy. Nothing bad could come from that!

      • no, it’s not about making me happy, it’s about taking risks on dual nationals that are starting to pile up negatively eg araujo efrain akinola ochoa do i have to keep naming people?? musah may not leave but pepi still could…..

      • Guys, Musah is cap tied. There is this weird rule that if you play a certain amount of adult NT teams in a row even if they are friendlies you get cap tied. He meets that qualification

    • From an interview with Yunus in July with Orange Slices, “Gregg made a decision and you have to respect that.” … “Me and Gregg always talk we have a lot of chit chat about my progress and what he wants and expects from me. We kept on speaking because he knew you know I want to play. After every match he’d talk to me and explain why I didn’t play and usually you know it was a tactical decision.” “… at the end of the season I wasn’t really playing much at Valencia and that might have effected my fitness coming into camp.” “I know Gregg has a lot of faith in me and he always reminds me of that. That’s all though really, it’s all good man, it’s all good.”
      It is an interview so maybe not 100% the whole story but it seems he was open to playing, he himself felt he wasn’t at his top performance level, and he has absolutely no problems with Gregg and no thoughts of leaving. Gregg doesn’t play games with these guys he tells them exactly what is going on what the staff is thinking. He commented on that in his latest interview with Warshaw, he had a manager that didn’t operate that way so that shaped his style. He first and foremost is respectful through open and consistent communication to his players and his players respect him for it. That might lose you some players in the short term because they want big promises but in the long run guys see that and they also see the other side of federations that play guys just to tie them and then ignore them.

  8. USA needs to decide if it wants more latino representation on the national team. Also, if Pepi is not ready to decide I would not rush it, yes he’s got a huge upside, but there’s more talent down the pipeline, this decision comes down to where your heart is

    • So we should now have quotas? How about we break it down by specific countries? “Ups we still need a Bolvian, and could use 1 or 2 more dual Ecaudorians.” Good Lord!

    • I agree on Pepi because he is a huge talent but why do they need more Latino representation on the team? So bring in players other than Weah, Pulisic, Aaronson, Robinson, etc just because they are Latino? I don’t think that’s a recipe for success. The players coming through have a soccer culture and skill set similar to the Latino player and they are more athletic. Nope, don’t need them.

  9. Bottom line, this is a personal decision on where a player decides to play for from a national team perspective. That being said, I’m seeing a number of Mexican-Americans go the way of El Tri lately (Efrain Alvarez, David Ochoa) and I don’t want to lose two talented players in Pepi and Araujo to them. Pull out the stops USMNT and Berhalter, let’s get these players into our pool. If we lose them, at least we tried.


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