FRISCO, Texas – It was never going to be easy, but FC Dallas Homegrown Ricardo Pepi has made a decision on his international future.
Although eligible for both the U.S. and Mexico as a dual national, Pepi has chosen to stick with the country of his birth and accepted his first senior U.S. Men’s National Team call-up for its World Cup Qualifying matches in September.
“I want to start by saying that I am a Mexican-American and that I am super proud of my heritage,” Pepi told FCDallas.com. “It’s something that will never be taken away from me, no matter what national team I play for. I made this decision because I felt the USA trusts me and I think that’s due to (USMNT head coach) Gregg Berhalter and how he emphasized this to me. I had good talks with Gregg and I feel I can make an impact with the USA and help this national team really do something special now and in the future.”
In July, while still grappling with one of the most difficult decisions of his young career, Pepi spoke about the importance of feeling “at home” with his eventual senior national team. He was in contact with both country’s federations as they explained their plans for the future, and how Pepi could fit into them. Clearly, the U.S. and head coach Gregg Berhalter were convincing.
“Everyone has supported me,” Pepi explained. “I mean from forever. This country has given my family so many opportunities and it really has helped me achieve my goals. What better way to help them by hopefully one day lifting up a World Cup? I feel warmly welcomed and I can’t wait to show that I deserve to be here.
“I spoke with Gregg (Berhalter), not just last month. He constantly followed up with me and called me twice after that. He showed me that I am special and I want to show him that I am ready for this moment.”
The USMNT opens its 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign next week with games against El Salvador (9/2), Canada (9/5) and Honduras (9/8). But even if Pepi features in all three, he won't be cap tied with the U.S. Due to a new FIFA rule, players under the age of 21 aren't cap tied to a country until they play more than three matches (friendlies included). However, players wanting to switch allegiances using this mechanism have to wait three years from their final game with their original national team before they can make the switch.
So, is Pepi ready to make that leap and tie his immediate future to the USMNT?
“I said that when I made this decision it would be with the heart. It’s been made with the heart. If I put that jersey on, I am fighting for it until I can’t fight anymore. So yes, I am ready to play.
“This has all been one steppingstone to the next. The FC Dallas Academy has trusted me, then North Texas SC gave me the tools and the FC Dallas first team gave me the opportunity to showcase myself. I knew that a call to the National Team depends on how you are performing with your club. I just want to thank every single person who has helped my journey thus far. And it’s only just the beginning. I have huge aspirations and I want to win by any means. I’m here to help, to support this club and this country and, one day at a time, I hope we do something special.”
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