Over the next few days, and even years, you’ll read plenty of words about Ricardo Pepi, the latest rising star for American soccer.
There are very few explanations for the striker’s ascent better than the one offered by USMNT legend Clint Dempsey on Thursday night.
“Hold that,” Dempsey tweeted shortly after Pepi scored his second goal against Jamaica in World Cup qualifying. “Man he puts the biscuit in the basket.”
The most Dempsey description possible, but a very fitting way to describe Pepi. As Dempsey says, Pepi simply cannot stop putting the biscuit in the basket, as his brace on Thursday now has him on three goals through his first two USMNT appearances.
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What a month it’s been for the young FC Dallas star, who simply cannot stop scoring and is now looking like the best pure finisher to wear the USMNT shirt since fellow Texan Dempsey stepped away.
Hold that! Man he puts the biscuit in the basket
— Clint Dempsey (@clint_dempsey) October 8, 2021
Pepi scored both goals in the USMNT’s 2-0 win over Jamaica, helping lift the U.S. to the top of the Octagonal through the first four games of this World Cup qualifying cycle. The two-goal performance came after Pepi played a part in all four goals in the team’s come-from-behind 4-1 win over Honduras last month in what was his first USMNT cap.
Despite the pressure of World Cup qualifying, Pepi has simply been faultless to begin his international career, offering the USMNT the type of goalscoring striker it has long lacked. He’s become the team’s new go-to No.9 in the process.
And so the Ricardo Pepi hype train rolls on, with USMNT boss Gregg Berhalter the latest passenger to hop aboard.
“We’re all excited. We’re just sitting there, and we’re on the train,” Berhalter said after the win over Jamaica. “We’re just observing everything that’s happening. It’s amazing. An 18-year-old gets an opportunity and takes advantage. What you see and what I really like is that he has this instinct, and it’s really hard to teach that to players. He has an instinct to score.”
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And score Pepi has for both club and country.
Pepi’s netted 13 MLS goals in just 1,909 minutes. And he’s added three more over his first 158 minutes for the USMNT.
His latest two weren’t the most complicated of finishes, although both were first-time efforts on assists from Brenden Aaronson and Sergino Dest. Still, they were the type of goals that showed the best of what Pepi has to offer.
Dangerous in the first half, Pepi couldn’t quite get off the mark in the opening 45 as he routinely ran into space manned by the USMNT’s more vertical wingers. In the second half, though, he proved more patient, making those darting runs into the box. They were the runs of a veteran and the finishes of a striker that knows what he’s doing when the ball gets to him.
There’s a reason Pepi has been linked with Bayern Munich, AC Milan and Ajax in recent weeks. There are reasons he’s been compared with Robert Lewandowski, Erling Haaland and Edin Dzeko. There’s a reason that he started in a must-win game in El Salvador and a reason Berhalter opted to go with Pepi and Gyasi Zardes as strikers over Josh Sargent, Jordan Pefok and Daryl Dike in this October camp.
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It’s because Pepi scores goals, lots of goals, and is seemingly unfazed by the fact that what he’s doing is special.
“I feel like I worked just to be able to be on the squad,” Pepi said, reflecting on the two-month period since he opted to represent the U.S. over Mexico.”Being able to represent my country, I feel like I made a big decision and, like I said when I made my decision, I was going to give my all to the team, and that’s what I’m doing.
“I feel like it’s coming, I don’t know if it’s too fast or if it’s too slow, but I feel like it’s coming. Whatever is going to come is going to come, so I just have to be ready for it and be prepared.”
As Pepi alluded to, this is just the beginning. He’s just 18, after all, even if it easy to forget when seeing his poise and composure on and off the field.
He has a long way to go to catch Dempsey, the USMNT’s joint all-time top goalscorer (57 goals, tied with Landon Donovan). His club future is still uncertain and his national team career is only getting started.
But, as long as he keeps finding the back of the net, Pepi will be just fine. The hype train rolls on and it will keep rolling as long as he keeps putting the biscuit in the basket.