With Dallas trailing 1-0 in second-half stoppage time in their Round One matchup with the Portland Timbers at Providence Park, Pepi got a stunning equalizer, running onto a long ball and lashing his initial shot off the post before cashing in the rebound, improbably sending the match to extratime. Pepi followed that up with a clinical finish from the spot in the penalty kick shootout as part of Dallas' run of eight straight conversions that sent them through to the Western Conference Semifinals.
It remains early to be dubbing Pepi as next in the line of Dallas' list of standout youth prospects, but if there's ever the type of goal that can vault a player into the national consciousness, Sunday's monster finish certainly had the feel of it.
"It's natural. It's not forced," Gonzalez said at his postmatch press conference. "He's a young man that's worked really hard through the youth program, the academy. He's always been humble, but really hard-working, and his natural talent — he doesn't depend on his talent. He tries to show a great mentality, to learn and to be patient and to give everything at his opportunity. So tonight was a product of that and I know he's still going to learn a lot going forward, he has a great future. But he certainly showed that he can step in on the biggest the stage, in a pressure moment when we need it most, and deliver. So I think it's just the beginning for a player that's going to support this club and have a career in the league."
Watch: Ricardo Pepi forces extra time with dramatic equalizer
The fact that Pepi was on the field at all in such a crucial moment is evidence of Gonzalez's trust in the Homegrown forward, who had 24 career first-team appearances to his name coming into the match, something that Pepi said allowed him to maintain his poise in such do-or-die circumstances.
"It's not really a verbal confidence, the confidence he has in me is by putting me in the 82nd minute, 1-0 down, that shows the confidence he has in me. I'll take that," Pepi said. "I see that in him, I see that in myself that he has confidence in me and that's what allows me to play with confidence myself on the field."
The penalty-kick upset of a favored Portland side is the story of the moment, but once the dust settles, FC Dallas know they'll have another tough opponent in the Western Conference Semifinals, where they'll face either the Seattle Sounders or LAFC.
Should they face to Seattle, they'll have to head to the site of their playoff exit last year, where they were defeated by the Sounders 4-3 in a wild Round One matchup. If it's LAFC, Dallas would be the home team as the higher seed, but yet might find themselves as a perceived underdog against a team that won the Supporters' Shield last year and has flashier names on the roster.
If they find themselves overlooked again, goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer said his team has no problem continuing to embrace that role.
"We just use that as motivation," Maurer said. "We know that and we saw that everyone was picking Portland to go through and there wasn't a lot of optimism and belief that we were really going to be able to make some noise. We took that on and took the chip on our shoulder with that to spur us on. But at the same time we had a lot of belief in each other, after they scored the goal in the 82nd minute our heads go down, but they come right back up and we were ready to go and give it all we could. We threw everything we had at their goal to get that equalizer and we were able to do so."