PROFILING HIS BEST ATTRIBUTES ASSESSING HIS FUTURE ANALYSING HIS STATS LEARNING ABOUT HIS STORY SO FAR
Who is Ricardo Pepi?
Despite still being a teenager, Ricardo Pepi is already being touted as a potential striker for the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) thanks to his remarkable recent rise with FC Dallas.
Ricardo Pepi's style of play
At the start of the 2021 MLS season, most of the talk around FC Dallas’ forward department centred around whether or not Jesus Ferreira could score the goals to compliment his build-up play. In four appearances so far, Ferreira is yet to score, but only because he’s been busy providing two assists – both for Ricardo Pepi.
With fellow FC Dallas academy graduates such as Weston McKennie and Chris Richards doing so much at such a young age, it felt like Pepi’s career might be more of a slow burn with just two goals from 17 regular-season appearances during the 2020 MLS campaign. But fast-forward to the Playoffs and Pepi gave us all a glimpse of what was to come.
With Dallas 1-0 down in the 93rd minute of the Western Conference First Round match against Portland Timbers, Pepi found space between the two opposing centre-backs and raced in behind to meet Matt Hedges’ ball over the top. Though Pepi needed a rebound off the post to put the ball home, the goal was an illustration of everything the 19-year-old is best at: intelligent movement, speed behind the opponent and ice-cool finishing — after all, he did beat Timbers goalkeeper Steve Clark before being assisted by the post.
With the 2021 season now in full swing, Pepi has carried that momentum forward with five goals in just 634 minutes of MLS action. No FC Dallas player has more so far this term, while no teenager throughout the whole of MLS matches that output, with RB Leipzig-bound Caden Clark and San Jose Earthquakes prospect Cade Cowell coming closest on four goals each.
But not just a poacher, Pepi is also a hard worker. According to FBRef, Pepi has applied more pressures to the opposition per 90 minutes than any other FC Dallas player with more than 100 minutes to their name this season (29.4) and has won 10 of his 27 contested aerial duels, showing he is willing to put in the hard yards and is unafraid of a physical battle.
The youngster is willing to take risks and commit defenders, completing the third-highest number of take-ons (10) among his teammates this season. And in a recent clash with the Vancouver Whitecaps – where he scored – Pepi created a match-high four chances. The fact that total makes up the majority of his seven chances created across the entire season shows there is a lot of consistency yet to come in his game, but is also evident of a player gifted with great awareness of those around him and the technical ability to split open a defence, especially when considering his tender age.
Dallas head coach Luchi Gonzalez hasn’t been surprised in the slightest about Pepi’s rise to prominence this season, saying the teenager has ‘always’ had the ‘instinct and talent’ to go far in the game.
“I just saw a kid naturally positioned and with instincts around the goal,” said Gonzalez after Dallas’ 2-1 win over New England Revolution in June.
“He always had this instinct and talent and it was about supporting his pathway and giving him ingredients to reach his potential and he’s nowhere near his potential. You still see a lot of things in his game that can be much better, but he certainly has a great mentality and he has the talent and he has a great family and a great support system.
“It’s a pleasure to work with him because whether he starts or not, scores or not, he’s always ready, wanting to learn and that to me shows he has a high ceiling. I’m really happy for him and I know he’s going to continue to be hungry and want more.”
Forecasting the Future for Ricardo Pepi
To get a closer insight into Pepi’s potential, Scouted Football spoke to former FC Dallas right-back Reggie Cannon – now playing for Portuguese side Boavista and Gregg Berhalter’s US National Team – for a closer look at the latest starlet to come off this club’s prolific production line.
“I think he’s a really good player, he’s got a big potential future ahead of him,” said Cannon, who is currently on international duty with the United States at the Concacaf Gold Cup. ”It’s just going to be about developing his mindset at this point because he’s got all the tools.
“I’ve talked with guys here [at National Team camp] about him. He’s on a hot streak right now and the biggest thing is to stay humble and keep working hard because I think he’s got a big trajectory.
“It’s just going to be a matter of is his mind in the right place? He’s obviously very young. Myself, Weston [McKennie], Chris [Richards], everyone else was the same way as a kid where you tend to get distracted because of everything going on. Especially at such a young age.
“It’s also going to be a matter of him finding consistency, I think that’s going to be the key for Pepi because he’s such a talented player. Can he keep scoring goals every three games, getting in the right areas, creating chances? I think he’s done a very good job of that over the past few games.”
On Pepi’s stylistic traits, Cannon added: “He’s a very good kid. He makes great diagonal runs, he’s not a hold-up type of striker, he’s more someone who is very technical and likes to come down and play with the midfielders to do lay-offs and dribbles.
“He’s got a lot of strong areas so, if he has the right mindset, man, I know he can make it. I really do.”
As both Cannon and Gonzalez mention, Pepi has all the ability. Now, he must walk the tightrope negotiated by all the world’s top players in ensuring he maintains the discipline and mental strength required to become an elite striker.
If he can manage that, the USMNT may have found their starting number nine for a decade to come.