FRISCO - Among the most exciting players for North Texas Soccer Club in its inaugural season is 16-year-old phenom Ricardo Pepi. Not only is he the top prospect in the country at the striker position, but he is a symbol for the club’s ethos: to be the next step in the player development pipeline between the renowned FC Dallas youth Academy and its first-team roster.
Making the jump from youth soccer to the professional level at such a young age is notoriously difficult; however, there is little doubt that Pepi is ready. His FC Dallas Academy career can be summed up with his absurd goal-scoring statistics. After joining at 13 years-old, Pepi scored 12 goals in 13 appearances while playing with FC Dallas’ U-14 team. Last year, while playing two years up with the U-17 team, he found the net 19 times in just eight games.
Despite his fantastic on-field performances, Pepi’s time in the Academy wasn’t always easy. In order to pursue his dream of playing professionally, Pepi left his family and his hometown of El Paso to live with a host family in Dallas so he could train at FC Dallas’ premier facilities in Frisco.
“That year was tough,” Pepi admitted, thinking back to his initial transition from El Paso to Dallas. “But I knew if I wanted to make it far in the game I had to sacrifice things. My family and I knew that we both had to sacrifice for each other for me to make it.”
So far, Pepi and his family’s sacrifice has paid off. He became North Texas’ first-ever signing at just 15 years of age and is the club’s top scorer in preseason scoring six goals in four games. Also, since moving to Dallas and joining its Academy, Pepi has regularly been called up to represent the United States at the international level—even going on to score the game-winning goal against Turkey as the youngest member of the U.S. U-17 team.
While there’s still a long way to go, North Texas SC head coach Eric Quill believes Pepi has all the talent and attributes to become a top-tier forward.
“To be a true goal-scorer, you got to be able to have different techniques in your bag,” Quill said. “He (Pepi) can bend the ball with both feet; he can drive it, place it. He has so many nuances in terms of goal scoring. He can hurt the opponent in so many ways with his versatility, it’s amazing.”
An inevitable question is whether or not Pepi’s innate instinct for scoring goals will translate to the professional level. However, considering two of his six preseason goals have come against USL Championship teams (Swope Park Rangers and Austin Bold FC), he’s already starting to answer that question. In his eyes, an opponent is an opponent—regardless of age, level or experience.
“That doesn’t affect me in any way,” said Pepi on the difficulty of facing much older, seasoned professionals. “I’m just trying to get better and to develop myself. I know that at points in my professional career I’ll playing against more experienced players but that doesn’t really matter to me. Growing as a player is what I’m interested in.”
This focused, down-to-earth attitude is among the traits that head coach Quill appreciates most about Pepi—especially considering his recent meteoric rise.
“He’s an amazing person,” Quill said. “He’s humble and coachable. He’s always willing to learn, open to new ideas and feedback. For me, having a player like that, there is no telling where the ceiling goes because he’s so open for people helping him to improve further.”
Evaluating a player’s potential at this age is an inexact science. Considering his effect on North Texas’ coaching staff and the attention he’s already received from European clubs, the sky’s truly the limit for Ricardo Pepi. However, he’s currently focused on the task at hand.
“I want be the top goal scorer here in North Texas,” Pepi said. “I want to have a great career here and win some trophies for the club. I do have a dream to play in Europe one day, so I’d like to move there at some point.”
While Pepi dreams of one day playing on the biggest stage in Europe, his unwavering motivation comes from elsewhere.
“Everything I do is for my family, to make them happy,” Pepi said. “They worked very hard and sacrificed things, left family behind (in El Paso), so I just want to thank them. My parents brought me to this point so I can’t let them down now.”