Another international break has come and gone and Ricardo Pepi’s hype train continues to accelerate. Sadly for FC Dallas fans, that hype train looks set to take Pepi out of Dallas at the end of the season.
On August 29th, scored two first half goals in Q2 Stadium to help lead FC Dallas to a 5-3 win that stunned the Austin FC faithful. 39 days later, Pepi returned to Q2 Stadium and scored two more goals, only this time his goals were met with rapturous celebration from the entire stadium (instead of just a small group in the corner) as he led the US Men’s National Team to a 2-0 defeat of Jamaica in World Cup Qualifying. Less than a week later, he made his third start for the national team to help guide the US to a crucial 2-1 defeat of Panama in Columbus. The day before that game, reports of Pepi being close to reaching a deal with German Bundesliga club Wolfsburg hit the internet. This has followed a whirlwind of rumors and reports of Pepi being linked to a number of European clubs including Bayern Munich and AC Milan.
Regardless of his ultimate destination, it is clear that Pepi isn’t long for the cozy confines of Toyota Stadium. It seems like a matter of time before Dallas and Pepi receive an offer that they simply can’t refuse and based on Pepi’s current stratospheric rise, that time is likely rapidly approaching, if it has not already gotten here. The only thing that might keep Pepi in Frisco beyond the end of the 2021 season is the promise of consistent playing time in the build up to the 2022 World Cup, which would certainly lock up a spot for him in Qatar (assuming the US does not bomb out of World Cup Qualifying, which is not currently looking likely). But based on the regularity with which rumors and reports are coming out about European interest, it seems like a stretch to imagine Pepi suiting up for Dallas when the 2022 MLS season kicks off.
Pepi looks set to become yet another major sale for the club in recent years, following the sales of Tanner Tessmann earlier this season, Thiago Santos just before the season, Bryan Reynolds in the offseason and Carlos Gruezo and Chris Richards in 2019. Many Dallas fans have expressed frustration with the club regarding these player moves, saying that the club has not properly used the funds from these sales to reinvest into the first team to push the team towards MLS Cup glory. There’s no doubt that Dallas has struggled in recent seasons to acquire consistent contributors, with major acquisitions such as Bryan Acosta, Santiago Mosquera, Fafa Picault, Phelipe, Bressan and oft-cited Franco Jara all ranging from inconsistent to downright poor for the club. Fans are justifiably concerned that, although the club is likely to receive an MLS-record transfer fee for a homegrown player when they do sell Pepi, the funds will not be reinvested or, if they are fully reinvested, will be spent on unproven players or players whose best days are behind them.
Complicating the matter is the fact that the club is in a state of flux after dismissing Luchi Gonzalez in September. Interim manager and long-time FC Dallas assistant coach Marco Ferruzzi is getting a first crack at taking the reins through the end of the season, but results thus far certainly do not point towards Ferruzzi landing the job at season’s end. Technical director Andre Zanotta will certainly have coaches he is interested in bringing to Dallas but Dan and Clark Hunt will also be involved in this decision and they have traditionally looked internally for manager changes. Without a permanent manager leading the ship, this uncertainty could also help push Ricardo Pepi out of Dallas.
So what does this all mean for FC Dallas fans? Ultimately, there is, of course, little that fans can do rather than wait and see and hope that Pepi and his camp make the decision that the best move for his career in the immediate future is to remain in Dallas. But what fans can do is enjoy Pepi while he is still here, for however long that ends up being. The FC Dallas academy has produced a plethora of talent but Pepi is the first that looks like he has the potential to not only play at the highest levels but be the guy at the highest levels. Certainly FC Dallas fans can take pride in seeing players like Weston McKennie and Chris Richards play at the highest level, but neither of those two ever played a minute for the first team. Fans can take pride in watching Reggie Cannon or Bryan Reynolds in Europe, but they are defenders who are rarely going to occupy the spotlight.
Pepi, on the other hand, is not only a player that fans have actually gotten to see rise through the club themselves, going from dominating USL League One as a 16 year old with North Texas SC, to being the highest scoring American in MLS as an 18 year old. Regardless of all the other stuff going on with the club and how long he’ll still be here, Pepi is a player that any FC Dallas fan can take pride in. Dallas has five more games left before the 2021 season comes to an end, playoffs are almost completely out of reach and it may end up going down as the second worst season in the club’s history. But if there’s any reason to keep watching this team, you’d be hard pressed to find a better reason than watching the club’s most exciting product ever. Enjoy Pepi while he’s here, go see him in person if you have the chance, you may not have many more opportunities to do so without getting on a plane.
Do you think Ricardo Pepi will still be with FC Dallas in 2022? If not, where do you think he will end up in Europe? Let me know in the comments below!
Featured Image: Eric Gay/Associated Press