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Ricardo Pepi Is the USMNT’s Striker of the Moment

This type of shyness might be concerning for a coach, were it not so easily, and so ferociously, shed on the field.

“In the dressing room he was always kind of in the corner by himself,” said Francisco Molina, the former scouting director for F.C. Dallas, who met Pepi when he was playing in the team’s youth system. “On the field, he was a loud, screaming, rebellious kid.”

The first thing Molina noticed about Pepi was his spindly frame. (“Like a baby deer, he said.”) The second was his steady stream of goals: He could score them with his right foot or his left, with his head, with his knees and shoulders and shins. He can find almost any way to nudge the ball into the net.

“He has that instinct,” Molina said. “He’s a pure 9.”

These skills have drawn interest from the top clubs in Europe. Among those tracking Pepi’s development, there seems to be agreement that his next step should be a careful, conscientious one — a spot on a good team in a medium-profile league, perhaps, or one on a medium-profile team in a top league.

“You have to go somewhere where you play right away,” his U.S. teammate Chris Richards, who made a similar move to Europe from F.C. Dallas at age 18, said in an interview with the website Transfermarkt last week. “Sometimes you get caught up in the big names, but it might not be the perfect situation.”

There appears to be consensus, too, on the one area where he could improve the most: playing with his back to the goal. In those situations, Pepi prefers laying the ball off quickly to a teammate to get himself moving again. He does not yet look as comfortable holding the ball and withstanding a physical challenge from a defender, the kind of pause that top strikers must master in order to give their teammates time to build an attack around them.

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