FRISCO—Teenage sensation Ricardo Pepi made his long-awaited FC Dallas debut Wednesday in the club’s first Lamar Hunt Open Cup match of 2019 against the OKC Energy at Westcott Field.
Considering Pepi marked his professional debut with North Texas SC in USL League One with a hat trick just two and a half months ago, Wednesday’s debut was expectedly less headline-grabbing. However, he nonetheless contributed on the box score by delivering an assist to Michael Barrios for FC Dallas’ second goal of the night in the club’s resounding 4-0 win over a familiar Open Cup opponent.
Although it wasn’t Pepi’s most eye-catching performance on the professional level, his first start and debut for FC Dallas’ first team was an unforgettable moment for the EL Paso native as it came just three years after he joined the club’s Development Academy as a 13-year-old.
“It was a lot of excitement,” Pepi said after the match. “I’m thankful for FC Dallas for getting this opportunity. It was a good one. I was very excited but a little nervous at the same time. It was a great opportunity for me to come and debut.”
A collection of nerves and excitement is a common theme for players when making their first-team debuts; however, Pepi’s meteoric rise since the turn of the year make it all the more relatable.
Few people had heard the name Ricardo Pepi in December of 2018 when he was announced as the first-ever signing in the history of North Texas SC—FC Dallas’ brand new League One affiliate. Since then, Pepi has announced himself on the professional scene in rare fashion—first with the aforementioned pro debut hat trick, then in the U-17 Concacaf Championship where he scored two goals for the U.S. en route to the final, and further in USL League One where he’s currently the top goal-scorer with seven goals in just six games. This dramatic progression in a few short months culminated with Wednesday’s FC Dallas debut—a milestone he concedes came much quicker than expected.
“I was working hard for it, but I never expected it to come this fast,” Pepi admitted. “I think second half I improved a little bit, I started getting more of the ball. First half I was a little nervous, but I started getting better as the game went on.”
Although he held an underlying feeling of nervousness on the occasion, Pepi’s six standout games in League One undoubtedly made the jump from the U-17 FC Dallas Academy team to its first team easier.
“It helped me a lot, playing at a professional level,” Pepi said. “It wasn’t too much of a difference—just a little bit. But we’ll get adapted to it and it should be fine.”
Fellow FCD Academy graduate and U.S. youth international player Brandon Servania (who played in North Texas SC’s first four games of the season before making his own FC Dallas debut) echoed a similar sentiment.
“I was sitting next to him (Pepi) in the locker room and he looked a little nervous,” Servania said post-match. “I just looked over to him and I told him that we’re used to this, we’re used to playing USL and it’s nothing different. It’s just another game and we just need to come in and fight and fight hard and prove that we deserve to be here. He smiled back and I knew that he was going to be fine.”
Pepi’s progression from dominating the Academy level, to being a standout in League One with North Texas SC, to making his debut for FC Dallas is an exemplar of the seamless development pipeline the FC Dallas organization has been striving to create for over a decade. While Pepi still has a long way to go before he’s a force in Major League Soccer, he’s trailblazing a pathway that all young players in the organization can look to emulate.