As the United States’ complete 26-man roster arrives in Qatar, one of the program’s most in-form strikers – who wasn’t selected by manager Gregg Berhalter for the FIFA 2022 World Cup – keeps producing for his club team in Holland.
Ricardo Pepi scored in FC Groningen’s 3-2 loss on Sunday to Fortuna Sittard, giving him six goals and two assists across nine matches. He’s been the Eredivise club's top scorer while on loan from German Bundesliga side FC Augsburg.
Yet the 19-year-old was left off the USMNT’s squad, with Berhalter instead opting for Jesus Ferreira (FC Dallas), Haji Wright (Antalyaspor) and Josh Sargent (Norwich City) up top. It’s a tough decision he’s come to terms with quickly.
“Disappointing because I felt like I gave myself the best opportunities to be in the World Cup roster,” Pepi said in a postgame interview over the weekend. “I felt like I had a chance, but also not disappointing at the same time because, like I said, I did my thing, I went out there, I played many minutes, I scored my goals. I’m really happy with that situation.
“At the end of the day, it’s a coach’s decision that I can’t control.”
The FC Dallas homegrown product moved to Europe last January on a reported $20 million transfer to Augsburg, all following MLS Young Player of the Year honors in 2021. But he didn’t score in any of his 16 appearances at the Bundesliga side, prompting the season-long loan to Groningen.
Upon scoring in a mid-September Eredivisie match, Pepi snapped a goalscoring drought for club and country that went nearly a full calendar year (345 days to be exact). He’s stayed on the scoresheet, though Berhalter went in another direction.
What more could he do? Pepi handled that very question in stride.
“I feel like it can be a question, but after [Berhalter] told me that I wasn’t in the selection, then I just had to listen to what he said and I didn’t really ask any questions,” Pepi said.
“I feel like once he told me, I wanted to flip the page as soon as possible and just focus on the game now. I can’t keep thinking about why I didn’t make it or why I did.”
Berhalter, when asked about omitting Pepi at the USMNT’s roster reveal event last Wednesday, said they especially evaluated the youngster against Sargent. Ultimately, they preferred the latter’s body of work in the notoriously physical English Championship – considering Group B foes Wales (Nov. 21) and England (Nov. 25) await – over the former’s in the attack-minded Dutch league where defenses aren’t as strong.
Pepi burst onto the scene during the USMNT’s early World Cup qualifying struggles, playing a vital role in a 4-1 comeback win at Honduras and a 2-0 home win over Jamaica. He had 1g/2a in the first game, then a brace in the second one – all after snubbing Mexico’s recruiting push for the Yanks. Those are Pepi's only international goals through 12 appearances.
Now, Pepi’s next USMNT chance will come after Qatar. He’ll also only be 23 when an expanded World Cup is co-hosted by the US, Mexico and Canada in 2026.