There are several reasons why Ricardo Pepi's hat trick Saturday night at Toyota Stadium was special.
There was the historical aspect. At 18 years and 196 days, he became the youngest player in MLS history to score three times in a game, breaking the record set by Kekuta Manneh in 2013 at age 18 and 283 days.
But there’s added importance for Pepi, who dedicated the hat trick to his late grandfather, who he was named after.
"A year ago today my grandpa passed away so it was for him, this night was for him,” Pepi said after the match. “It was a very special night, I knew I was going to do this. It was for him, all three goals were dedicated to him.”
Pepi opened the scoring in the 27th minute, running onto a deflected through ball and slotting past an onrushing Jonathan Bond. He had his second brace as a professional one minute from halftime, heading down Jesus Ferreira's corner kick off the back of LA Galaxy defender Derrick Williams before firing a thunderous blast from the edge of the six. Pepi's third goal came in the 50th minute when he turned atop the 18-yard box, slipping a low shot across the grain and inside the left post.
That the homegrown talent has leveled up doesn't shock FC Dallas coach Luchi Gonzalez.
“If you ask him how many goals he could’ve scored tonight, he would tell you four. That’s just his hunger and desire he has. We’re starting to see his potential and we always talk in terms of challenging him. We know you’re the player of the future, but it’s up to you to work hard to be that player now. We saw him show an example that can be that player now,” Gonzalez said.
“We take it one step at a time and he’s a humble kid. He’s such a respectful young man, he comes from a great family, and he just wants to work his butt off. Whether he scores or his teammates score he just wants to help the team win. I’m so proud of him. Now it’s very clear he’s going to get marked harder and teams are going to be more physical, and teams will be scouting him. His job is only going to get harder. I know he has this mentality to train the extra and to do the extra and think the extra so he can help his team.”