Ricardo Pepi still has a major decision to make regarding his international future, but the Mexican-American for now will enjoy the opportunities ahead.
Pepi was included in Gregg Berhalter’s 26-player roster on Thursday, ahead of the U.S. men’s national team’s start of Concacaf World Cup Qualifying next week. The FC Dallas product has been linked with both the USMNT and Mexico in regards to his national team career, but for now, has a first opportunity to impress Berhalter and his staff ahead of competitive action.
Ricardo Pepi backed by Berhalter ‘to contribute’
The 18-year-old might not see the field in matches against El Salvador, Canada, and Honduras between September 2-8, but it’s a new opportunity for him to learn after slowly rising into a talented forward at MLS level.
“We’ve been talking to Ricardo long before Mexico has been involved,” Berhalter told media on conference call Thursday. “That’s their prerogative, they have the right to do that. But we let our environment speak for itself, the players speak for themselves..For us, it’s not really about what Mexico is doing, it’s about what we’re doing.
“When I look at his skill set, he’s a guy who can contribute,” Berhalter said. “It’s going to be about seeing how we can use him in games, how he can adapt to this level but we’re certainly not afraid of his age because he’s a quality player.”
The El Paso native waited for his chances with FC Dallas in MLS, but since has developed into one of the club’s more reliable scorers during the 2021 season. Pepi has totaled nine goals in 20 matches and also scored the winning penalty kick in Wednesday’s shootout win with the MLS All-Stars over the Liga MX All-Stars.
Pepi is the latest player to have the tough decision of choosing between multiple national teams, following in the footsteps of several other MLS players. Real Salt Lake goalkeeper David Ochoa switched his allegiance to Mexico despite representing several levels with the USYNT, while LA Galaxy defender Julian Araujo is also deciding his international future between the two Concacaf powerhouses.
Pepi has only represented the United States at youth levels and this early opportunity with the senior team could be crucial in his final decision-making process.
“I think the connection is really important,” Berhalter said. “Players need to feel a connection to the United States, to our team, to our staff. That makes it easier, so for us, it’s about creating those connections and evaluating how they feel about playing for the United States. What the United States means to them. All of those things are really important. The heritage of a player is something we respect. When a player is a dual-national, we respect they have ties to the other country as well. For us, it’s about creating an environment players want to be in.”
Why did Ricardo Pepi choose the USMNT?
“This country has given me and my family a home, and endless possibilities to achieve my dreams,” Pepi said on social media. “It has supported me, it has lifted me up and it has shown me when you work hard you will be rewarded. I am very proud to be called in to help the USMNT qualify for the 2022 World Cup. This means the world to me, I will give everything for you all.”
Pepi is the lone player on the 26-player roster who has yet to debut for the senior team, but with several injuries in the player pool, his inclusion wasn’t a major shock. Gyasi Zardes and Daryl Dike are both recovering from respective injuries while Yunus Musah is not at 100% fitness following a preseason injury at La Liga club Valencia.
With Berhalter needing everybody to stay fresh and fit, the youngster could be called on during the three-match in a six-day span. Pepi has delivered several strong outings for FC Dallas during the current MLS season and a positive debut with the USMNT this September could be the start of a new chapter for the in-form forward.
“It’s about the players choosing for themselves,” Berhalter said about dual-nationals. “I try to be upfront and honest to the player, I want them to make a decision they’re comfortable with. Sometimes, they’re going to choose to represent another country and sometimes they choose to represent us. We have to live with that, but we try to put our best foot forward and let our environment and players speak for themselves.”
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