A goal down to Honduras and facing a third successive World Cup qualifying game without a win, the USA needed a hero.
Step forward an 18-year-old, Texan-born frontman who, on his national team debut, offered a timely reminder why some believe he may be the most promising striker to emerge from the US – ever.
Wreaking havoc inside the penalty area in the build-up to Antonee Robinson’s equaliser, Ricardo Pepi turned from provider to poacher, guiding a soaring header into the back of the Honduran net.
As far as dream debuts go it was right up there. Another assist followed and, with three vital points and a 4-1 win in the bag, Pepi announced his arrival on the international stage with a bang that could be heard across Central America.
“I think it’s incredible,” USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter told the MLS website. “18 years old, makes his debut in Honduras, a notoriously difficult place to play, ends up having a goal and assist and playing 90 minutes. I mean, that was incredible.”
USA legend Landon Donovan was similarly enthused by the performance of a striker who, one month after his Honduras heroics, is being linked with a who’s who of European clubs – from Bayern Munich to Ajax and Inter Milan to Borussia Dortmund.
Liverpool are in a long line for USA wonder kid Ricardo Pepi
According to CBS Sports, Premier League giants Liverpool have also made their interest in Ricardo Pepi known.
“He’s competitive. Forget about the goalscoring – he’s competitive, he works hard, he really grinds when he plays. And then, when he gets a chance in the box, he’s absolutely lethal,” Donovan told the Le Batard & Friends podcast.
“The goal (against Honduras) was fantastic. When I saw the view from behind, it’s not an easy finish at all. And I don’t want to be hyperbolic here or too dramatic, but that’s as big a goal for (USA) as they’ve scored in a long time.”
Pepi is no stranger to digging teammates out of a hole with a trademark instinctive finish. If it wasn’t for his 13 goals in just 27 MLS games, FC Dallas would be stuck at the bottom of the table with military-grade glue.
“There are players like Robert (Lewandowski) and Erling Haaland I compare my game to,” says Pepi, whose 6ft 1in frame and clinical finishing skills off both feet compare favourably to a pair of Bundesliga superstars.
“I like to watch their movements and do some video work on them. Lewandowski is one of the best strikers in the world and I like to compare myself to him – a lot.”
Practice makes perfect, as they say. Practice makes Pepi.