Meet El Paso’s Ricardo Pepi, U.S. Soccer’s next star

The 18-year-old has shined in his short time with the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team.

By Michael MarksOctober 13, 2021 12:53 pm, ,

Tonight in Columbus, Ohio, the U.S. Men’s National Soccer team will play against Costa Rica in a high-stakes game – a qualifying match for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, hosted by Qatar.

This is a high-pressure situation for the American side, especially when you consider that the team failed to qualify for the previous World Cup. If they make the next one, it will be largely due to an 18-year-old striker from San Elizario, Texas: Ricardo Pepi.

Pepi scored a total of three goals in his first three international matches. He’s also one of the top scorers in Major League Soccer this season, with 13 goals for FC Dallas.

“He needs one chance for one goal, and those guys are rare,” said Eric Quill, Pepi’s former coach.

Quill coached Pepi at North Texas SC, a professional reserve team for FC Dallas. Quill coached Pepi there in 2019, before he was called up to the big club.

“I knew quickly, after the first couple weeks of preseason, that Pepi was … going to terrorize the league,” Quill said.

That season with North Texas was technically Pepi’s professional debut, but soccer had been a kind of job for him for a while. He moved from San Elizario, in El Paso County, to the Dallas area by himself at age 13, in order train in FC Dallas’ youth academy. That was rare back then.

“When he first started the path, he was probably one of the first to take that kind of leap of faith,” said Quill.

If that weren’t enough, he also spent the better part of those years on his own weighing whether to play for the United States’ national team, or for Mexico’s.

As the child of Mexican parents, Pepi qualified to play for either one. Most thought he’d choose Mexico. But when he was offered the opportunity to play for U.S. team in August, he took it.

Afterward, in a press conference, Pepi was asked if he sees himself as a role model for other binational people.

“I don’t know if I’d be considered a role model,” he said. “But I feel like some people do feel the same way. I just want people to show and be able to know that there’s Mexican-Americans out there who, they can be Americans and feel like Mexicans or they can be Mexicans feeling like Americans, so that’s always a thing, there’s nothing wrong with feeling that way.”

The leap of faith that Pepi and his family took – and the sacrifices that came with it – are now paying off now. But this is just the next chapter of his soccer, story, not the end of it. And with Pepi’s play attracting the attention of major European clubs, it may not be too long before the West Texas native’s journey takes him even farther from home.

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