Following two appearances in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, United States youth international Ricardo Pepi signed a senior MLS contract with FC Dallas. He is the club’s 26th Homegrown Player signing, joining fellow USMNT prospects Paxton Pomykal and Jesús Ferreira on the roster. The 16-year old El Paso native has scored seven goals in six games for North Texas SC in USL League One (third division), putting him atop the league’s scoring table.
Despite the likelihood that he’ll spend the majority of the immediate future with the reserve side, the promotion shows the club’s commitment to his future. “It allows me to keep growing as a player and continue my professional career,” Pepi told Pro Soccer USA. “It’s a great opportunity that the club has given me and I’m just ready to step up and win a position.”
Following the contract announcement, Pepi made his MLS debut for FC Dallas; the 6’1” striker played 16 minutes in a 3-0 win over Toronto FC. His manager Luchi Gonzalez describes him as “a brave, creative, mobile forward - because he also can play on the wing - that’s got a really good sense of time and positioning around the goal to either score or set up his teammates.”
As for his international future, Pepi has spent time with the United States and Mexico under-17 national teams. He scored three goals at the 2019 CONCACAF U-17 Championship, including a brace in the 4-0 semifinal victory over Canada. If he continues to perform at a high level, he’ll undoubtedly be subject to much stronger overtures from Mexico. “Whenever I am seen by both nationalities, it means that I am working hard and it really motivates me to work even harder because it shows me that I am doing well,” Pepi told FCDallas.com last year. “Mexico was my first look and that is why I had the idea of going with them first, then I had the U.S. call-up and it allowed me to think more about my choices.”
While it’s impossible to predict how a teenager will develop, it appears that Pepi has a bright future ahead of him. Some credit for Pepi’s ascent can be ascribed to the proliferation of MLS Development Academies and the inception of reserve teams, which have already begun to pay dividends at the youth national team level. Without the current available avenues, he’d likely be toiling away at a local youth club for which he’s overqualified or attempting to latch onto a foreign team. Instead, he’s contributing to his local club in professional matches and rapidly climbing an established development ladder.