Ricardo Pepi FC Dallas

The Ricardo Pepi hype train is showing no signs of slowing down. If anything, it’s gained more traction with news that the FC Dallas forward made the US men’s national team's roster for next month’s World Cup qualifiers.

The 18-year-old is fresh off his first MLS All-Star Game presented by Target appearance, converting in a shootout to help lead the MLS All-Stars over their Liga MX counterparts in Los Angeles.

Is it too much, too soon for Pepi? Does the hype train threaten to derail Pepi’s progress? Was the US-Mexico tug of war too onerous?

FC Dallas coach Luchi Gonzalez understands the concerns but doesn’t share them.

He knows Pepi better than most, recruiting him as a 13-year-old from El Paso who joined FC Dallas’ residency program and worked his way up the club’s development pyramid. Now, he's a rising first-team standout.

“I would say it's a legit concern because these young players, you don't know how they're going to process these pressures and this attention with social media, now things are blown to another scale than even 10-20 years ago,” Gonzalez said after training Friday. “People in Europe, all over the world know who Pepi is now and now representing the US national team, it's only gonna grow his platform and his popularity.

“But you know what? I just hung out with him right now after training and it's the same Pepi. I don't see this kid changing much at all. In fact, I actually see him really channeling all this attention into just wanting to work even harder and make his club and his family more proud and his fans more proud of him. I see a clear focus.”

Gonzalez said Pepi shares the same mentality as other FC Dallas academy standouts who made the leap into stardom, including Weston McKennie, Kellyn Acosta, Reggie Cannon and Shaq Moore, among others.

“These kids, what I find in common, is they are just confident, and they channeled this pressure in a positive way,” Gonzalez said. “And I think Pepi is going to be another example of that.”

And Pepi’s not too young to succeed in the international arena, according to Gonzalez, especially given what USMNT attackers Tim Weah, Josh Sargent and Christian Pulisic have proven.

“Pepi’s at that age where he can debut, he can score on anybody at any given moment if given the opportunity, whether it's created for him or he creates it himself,” Gonzalez said. “I do believe he can make an impact at that level if given the opportunity. Whether he's got five minutes or 90 minutes, he’s very efficient. He's very efficient with the chances he can get."

Pepi, who has reportedly generated Serie A interest, has nine goals and one assist through 20 games (15 starts) this year. That form has pushed Designated Player forward Franco Jara to the bench, with Pepi becoming FCD's final-third focal point.

"The only way he's going to be successful on that level is if he’s he's taking care of business at the club level," Gonzalez said, "and that's what we're gonna expect to him and challenge him and develop him to be the best you can for FC Dallas. And by doing that, then I think he can do that with the national team like we've seen with other players that have come to our club.”