On the latest U.S. Soccer Podcast, US men's national team head coach Gregg Berhalter shared candid thoughts about the entire September qualifying window, which included praise for FC Dallas homegrown sensation Ricardo Pepi.
Pepi made his senior team debut in the 4-1 come-from-behind win against Honduras on Sept. 8, scoring a goal and adding an assist to spark the comeback.
"I think it's incredible," Berhalter said of the teenager's performance. "Think about 18 years old, makes his debut in Honduras, a notoriously difficult place to play, ends up having a goal and assist in playing 90 minutes. I mean, that was incredible.”
Berhalter noted that although Pepi wasn’t officially credited for an assist on the shot attempt that set up Sebastian Lletget’s stoppage-time dagger, he considered that an additional contribution – and part of what earned Pepi the player of the match award Berhalter and his staff gave to the striker in the midst of a breakout year.
Host Bobby Warshaw relayed the story, shared by Charles Boehm with MLSSoccer.com readers, of how Berhalter told Pepi he'd be starting on the way down to Honduras. In response to his question about it, Berhalter asserted that everyone called into USMNT camp has the ability to make contributions to the ongoing World Cup qualification campaign.
“It’s just to show a player you believe in him is the most important thing," Berhalter reflected. "Anything’s possible; if you’re in camp, you can play, you can start. You know, you're not in camp to be a placeholder. And it's just giving the guys the confidence that yeah, you're here to contribute. For Pepi, and for a lot of guys, you're playing not because I like you, you know you're playing because you're good enough and you can do it.”
While the Honduras match ended happily for USMNT players, it was in very real danger of going very differently at the halftime mark. Warshaw asked Berhalter about rallying the troops for the second-half comeback.
"You have a plan for what type of message you want to deliver, but to me, the first thing is, the first thing I said was it's about competing," Berhalter said. "We’re gonna have to raise our level of competing in this game to get back into it.”
He then explained the role that the tactical switch to a 4-3-3 played in getting his team to raise its level.
“Changing the formation, I thought, was going to give them the confidence that OK, we're gonna be able to get this done here, and then it’s about I think also remaining positive and sticking by them,” Berhalter noted.