RICARDO PEPI – THE NEXT USMNT’S NUMBER 9 BY RON DOR

RICARDO PEPI – THE NEXT USMNT’S NUMBER 9 BY RON DOR

Country: USA/Mexico.
Date of birth: 09/01/2003 (18).
Height: 1.85m.
Current club: FC Dallas.
Position: center-forward.
Preferred foot: right.
Similar type of player: Erling Haaland.

Introduction

Ricardo Pepi started playing football for fun at the age of 4, and soon joined a pro-team under his father, Daniel. At the Copa Chivas tournament of 2016, scouts of Dallas were impressed by him and brought him to the academy when he was just 13 years old. Pepi is part of their 2003′ extremely talented generation, which includes Cade Cowell, Caden Clark, Justin Che, Kevin Paredes, and so many more.

In the two and a half seasons he played at the academy (U13-U17), he scored 54 goals in 50 appearances. Surprisingly, he scored the most goals (19) at the team in which he had the least appearances (8), and here is another surprise: it happened at the U17.

In 2019, he was loaned to North Texas SC, which plays in the third tier of the American Soccer System. During that year, Pepi has scored 11 goals in 13 matches, and because of it, he got an exciting promotion to the Dallas MLS first team.

In the following year, the then 17-year-old Pepi was already a part of Dallas’ first-team squad. In the same year, he had 19 appearances, just 4 of them in the starting lineup, and scored 3 goals. In Principle, the main target of that 2020 season was to allow him to develop with the seniors, and so it was.

So far this year, Ricardo Pepi has scored 12 goals in 19 matches as a starter, he’s the American-national top goalscorer and also one of the top 5 goalscorers in general. On July 24, he scored a hattrick against LA Galaxy and became the youngest ever MLS player to score a hattrick.

The hot prospect is eligible to represent both the U.S and Mexico, but eventually he has chosen the USNMT.

Points for conservation

– Finishing with his preferred foot (right)

– Pace

– Heading

– Athleticism

– Off the ball movement

– Instinct

– Link-up play

Points for improvement

– Technique: His technique when alone is sufficient, but to also succeed as a creator, he needs to improve his ball control, first touch and long passing, as well as his vision and creativity

– Finishing with his weak foot (left): He likes cutting in from many areas in the field, and if he improves this aspect, he will have the option to use both feet

Style of play

Ricardo Pepi is a unique prospect, who is the epitome of the modern striker. He’s the complete forward who has the full package:

Target-man: His physique and strength enable creating chances and spaces, as well as scoring tap-ins.

Poacher: He has that “Killer Instinct” and quality to score goals.

Deep-lying forward: He drops deep to the midfield and attracts defenders to create situations and spaces for his teammates. Thanks to the passing range, he tends to pass long balls to the flanks.

Off-the-ball

Although Pepi is incredibly gifted with the ball, as a complete-forward he knows to make the difference without it too.

If we look at his heat map, it can be seen that his coach gives him freedom and that he’s a very mobile striker. He moves across the width of the pitch, and deeps into the center of the field. In doing so, he isn’t only a forward who finishes but also one who creates and contributes to the build-up. Pepi is targeted by the opponent’s defenders and allows the rest of the team to move forward into the empty space. Also, he has a high contribution to his defense, it’s notable in his statistics. In fact, he’s one of the best center-forwards at the MLS in terms of pressures (94 th percentile, 23.24 per 90 with most of them take place on the defensive & midfield third).

Due to his great ability of reading the game, it can be said that his off-the-ball movement is very smart and it’s clearly one of his strengths, as well as his positioning. As part of being a striker, Pepi has a natural eye for goals, and he knows to make fast through movements in order to reach a goalscoring situation, or where he should be to get the ball in a comfortable situation for scoring.

As you can tell from the first picture, Ricardo Pepi identifies the free space where he has to move while getting the ball, and makes the movement using his high pace.

In the second picture, with the help of a great finishing ability he puts Dallas up to a 1-0 lead over New England.

As for his reading the game and positioning, here is a visual presentation that illustrates this. In the first picture, Pepi stands on the verge of the penalty area, and his teammate dribbles past the last player in the box on the way to the goal.

Here, he notes that the player in a circle runs to block the post and stops.

In the last picture, the rebound is converted into a goal by Ricardo Pepi.

On-the-ball

In the same game against New England that was presented earlier, Ricardo Pepi also scored a great goal that shows what he’s capable of with the ball. Pepi is among the best center-forwards in the MLS in terms of successful dribbles leading to a goal (90 th percentile, 0.10 per 90), and an example of that can be seen in Pepi’s second goal.

In the first picture, he moves into the empty area left following the defender’s run towards his teammate. The center-back has no choice and is forced to follow Pepi, thus leaving the center of defense empty.

In the second picture, he defeats his opponent using his pace and first touch, then continues to race towards the goal in the space that has opened up due to the center-back’s run towards him.

In the third picture, the teenager goes past another defender on his safe way to the goal.

In the last picture, he scores and makes it a brace.

As for his height and jumping, Ricardo Pepi is an aerial threat in the opposition’s box. In fact, he scored his debut goal for the USMNT with a header.

In addition to his height and pace, Pepi is also agile and coordinated. Pepi uses his physical attributes and athleticism to pull defenders and he protects the ball well.

Against Honduras, he’s made his second assist for USMNT this way, by releasing the ball a beautiful touch using his instincts, to Brenden Aaronson who scored easily.

One of Pepi’s strengths is link-up play. Usually, he drops deep into the center of the field, pulls the defenders, and plays with his back to the goal. As a result, he provides the rest of his team the privilege of going forward and provides a chance which he can also be its finisher.

Look at this goal against Austin. In the first picture, he gets the ball in the center of the field and gives a progressive pass to the talemted Hungarian winger Szabolc Schön. Afterwards, Pepi moves forward towards the box, and Szabolcs runs in the right flank.

As you can see in the second picture, Schön finds Pepi in the box, who finishes greatly with his right-foot. Again, Pepi proves that he’s the complete-forward who can both create and finish.

As I’ve said, his short passes are very well, but to be the playmaker he wants to be, he has to improve his long passes, (spatial) vision, and also creativity.

Looking at the present & predicting the future

Nowadays, Ricardo Pepi is undoubtedly the hottest talent in American football. While he’s tearing up the MLS and breaking records, it has been said that Bayern Munich and a few more other teams are interested in the young forward. Personally, I expect him to continue developing and to lead his national team to glory.

Currently, I rate his potential at 9/10.

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