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Ricardo Pepi bolstering his case for being the USMNT’s answer at striker

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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.

Comments

  1. While Pepi has done exceedingly well and is very young, it is still too early to anoint him and disregard others. Both Pefok and Dike need to be kept in mind. Dike has started to get back to his scoring ways and Pefok has never left his. Somebody else may also come along. Pepi is leading the pack for now and should be the first name considered as striker, but the door shouldn’t be closed for others.

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  2. Top level competition is just that- so the case is never written in stone… “settled” That said- Pepi has grabbed the position by the tail distinguishing himself with clinical finishing no other striker in the pool has demonstrated thus far. So- while we’re always taking applications… Pepi has to be seen as our #1.

    WC qualifying with a tight schedule- other players will get a chance to make their case this window and upcoming. Sargent has had plenty of opportunity. Pefok… Dike… dare I say Zardes. None has made a convincing case for himself. Hoppe for sure deserves a look, but if I were GB, I’d start Pepi all 3 matches and look to Hoppe to sub in.

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  3. this is not even a debate, what’s a travesty is the selections behind him. that we’re down to zardes or move a wing in. the real debate is more like pefok nico soto sargent zardes for slots 2 and 3 at striker — and it should be 3 guys before we even talk pushing a wing over, not just 2. pepi should be on the roster in pen and the discussion should be who else gets penciled in. and it’s definitely not who he picked this time.

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    • Remember way back to four weeks ago when IV said how risky it would be to give Pepi meaningful minutes. Oh those were the days. Now he’s worried Hoppe who plays in LaLiga and had 6 goals in the Bundesliga last season as a striker won’t know how to do strikery things.

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      • nice ad hominem. notice you couldn’t be bothered defending his second stringer. starts with a “z.” let’s mention the third stringer emergency guy instead, right? anyways, you couldn’t have noticed my XI on the other thread because in the circumstances i said eff it and put hoppe down. not that i have any other choice, but that really just says how bad the “z” word was.

      • your argument is also a lie because i said give him 10′. never said don’t play him. said standard caution about a rookie in a qualifier. and at least i evolve to what i see…..

      • the 2 teams he’s beat, btw, are currently in 7th and 8th place. and neither of those were pretty at half.

      • “Your argument is also a lie”. Hmm you said Pepi should only get 10 minutes at the end of a game in a blowout situation. My comment was “you said it would be risky to play him meaningful minutes.” So not an exact quote of your comment but pretty accurate to your sentiment and definitely not a falsehood. Love how then you throw some more spaghetti at the wall by belittling Pepi so in case he hits a dry spell you can try to say you never believed in Pepi. Nothing but negative, You be You!

  4. Pepi has shown he is capable of scoring in multiple ways and seems to have the knack to get open in dangerous spots. At only 18, I expect he will have some ups and downs (who doesn’t), but his future is bright. Of course, the last a USMNT player had such an auspicious beginning was in 2005 when Edie Johnson scored early and often in WC qualifying.

    For Panama, despite all that promise, it is better to use him as a late sub 1) to avoid Panama hacking him to death, 2) to keep him fresh and hungry, and 3) to see what Hoppe can bring.

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    • Yeah, I thought of Eddie Johnson too. I remember he was much more unheralded than Pepi even. I remember his first goal he came on late and scored pretty quickly and I’m wondering who is this guy? I thought EJ was kind of unlucky when he went to Fulham. When he got his first chance coming in a game late he had a chance 1 on 1 with the keeper, who happened to be Brad Friedel. He was at a very tough angle and only had one shot and he missed by only a few inches. He never was given many opportunities after that. He saved the US by scoring a brace for the US vs. Antigua and Barbados in the middle of a downpour during qualifying for the 2014 WC. I think Pepi will have an even better career than EJ and could end up being a US great.

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    • I’m more reminded of Jozy. Jozy had 9 goals and 8 assists in 17 games as an 18 year old in mls before moving to Villarreal. Scored vs Mexico in his first start for the US.
      People forget Jozy was one of the better CF prospects in the world at the time. It didn’t work out for him at Villarreal and he seemingly made a series of bad career moves before landing at AZ where he had a few very good years. It all went downhill after leaving AZ.
      Pepi needs to be very thoughtful about his next career move. Absolutely needs to find a place where he will get consistent first team playing time.
      He’s got that Latino grit to him as a player which is in short supply for the US.

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    • Eddie Johnson, Altidore, Davies, and to a lesser extent Morris and Green. We have littered the field with not quite superstars. I’m not saying he won’t be great, but my expectations are low. Concacaf is not the EU.

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