The U.S. men’s national team’s continued search for its lead striking option has seen many players given the opportunity, but not enough taking advantage to win the job long-term. Ricardo Pepi has firmly established his name at the top of the list after delivering his latest gem on the international stage.
Pepi made his second consecutive start for Gregg Berhalter’s side on Thursday night, scoring twice in a 2-0 home victory over Jamaica. The Texas native did not disappoint the 20,500 fans at Austin’s Q2 Stadium on Thursday night and showed another glimpse of his growing potential in the final third.
“It’s a special feeling being able to just score here in Texas,” said Pepi, an El Paso native said. “Not just here in Texas, but in front of our fans. It’s an amazing feeling.”
“We’re all excited,” Berhalter said. “For us, we’re just sitting there and we’re on the train. He’s an 18-year-old who gets an opportunity, takes advantage. What you see and I think what I really like is that he has this instinct, and it’s really hard to teach that to players.”
Pepi earned his second consecutive start for the USMNT and made sure to walk away with two goals and a Man of the Match honor in his back pocket. The FC Dallas product was held in check most of the night, but eventually made the most of his limited opportunities in the second-half.
His close-range header past Andre Blake in the 49th minute broke the deadlock while his cool finish into the bottom corner in the 62nd minute all but sealed an important home victory for the USMNT. Pepi was substituted off in the 68th minute to cheers from the home crowd, as he watched the final 20+ minutes from the sidelines.
Pepi’s performance was similar to his one in Honduras last September, delivering his key moments in the second-half and paving the way for a needed USMNT win. It’s a performance that will definitely give him confidence going into the final two matches this month and boost his stock in the USMNT’s ever-continuous search for a No.1 striker.
“It’s about being patient,” Pepi said of his wait to make his mark against Jamaica. “I feel like if you ask any striker, whenever you don’t touch the ball or whenever you don’t get a lot of opportunities, you just have to stay ready for it when you do get a chance.”
“I think he’s really grown into this striker that is just so deadly in the box,” USMNT midfielder Brenden Aaronson said about Pepi. “He’s someone that’s always around. For a midfielder-winger, what I am, it’s a dream to play with a striker like him because you know he’s going to be in these spots.”
Pepi’s name has been on the USMNT’s radar for a while now after his stellar 2021 MLS campaign with FC Dallas, with his 13 goals leading all American players in the league. The young forward has also continued to garner interest from Europe as Bundesliga club Wolfsburg has joined Dutch side Ajax and Italian club Genoa in the reported race for his services this winter.
With three goals and two assists in his first two senior appearances for the USMNT, Pepi will now focus on continuing his impressive start on the international level with two additional qualifying matches set to come, starting with Sunday’s trip to Panama.