Why Ricardo Pepi left FC Dallas for German club Augsburg

Through Doug McIntyre
FOX Sports Football Editor

When the news broke on New Year’s Day, this 18-year-old united states national team cheeky Ricardo Pepi had signed with the German team Augsburg, it was a shock.

Pepi has long been expected to leave FC Dallas this month. As I wrote in November, he was determined to do it. But the destination seemed to come out of nowhere.

Ricardo Pepi’s journey: from El Tri fandom to USMNT star

Ricardo Pepi's journey: from El Tri fandom to USMNT star

Ricardo Pepi explains why he changed his childhood dream and made the decision to play internationally for the United States.

Prominent clubs such as Ajax and Bayern Munich were interested, and for weeks credible reports had Wolfsburg, which sits two points above Augsburg, 15th in the 18-team Bundesliga table, as Pepi’s favorite.

Augsburg was never more than a rumor. But according to Pepi’s agent, the club had been in the game for months.

“We’ve been working on it since the summer,” Jaime Garcia said this week in an exclusive interview with the city of Bavaria. “The feeling they gave us from the start, with their honesty and persistence, was that they really wanted Ricardo at this club no matter what. And they were willing to do what needs to be done to do it. enter.”

It took $ 20 million, the richest transfer fee in Augsburg’s 115-year history and the highest paid for a local MLS player. And it wasn’t even the highest bid.

FC Dallas didn’t want to sell Pepi’s contract, at least not yet. He just extended his contract in July, just before his spectacular USMNT debut skyrocketed his action. FCD would have preferred to keep the prized striker for the 2022 MLS season and then cash in after the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

Pepi was keen to leave, however. FC Dallas therefore accepted, on condition that the asking price, the club’s record, is reached. With many clubs around the world still recovering from the heavy financial losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, this was no small caveat.

“It was about finding the intersection of the right time for Dallas and the price and market possibilities that match those demands,” Garcia said.

As January 1 approaches, several clubs have submitted offers that have reached the threshold. From there it was a question of finding the best fit from a football point of view.

“There is a World Cup coming up,” Pepi told FOX Sports in October. “I have to make sure I play. I don’t want to go and sit on a bench. That’s basically what my decision is going to be based on.”

Augsburg was the most attractive option for this reason. The size of their investment ensures that Pepi has every chance of success, which might not necessarily be the case in a more glamorous squad. And with three critical World Cup qualifiers for the United States at the end of the month, it was also important to complete the transfer as soon as the month-long window opened.

Pepi could make his debut as early as Saturday, when Augsburg kicks off the second half of the Bundesliga season against Hoffenheim. It will take a few weeks for him to be in great shape; Dallas’ season ended in early November and he has only made two national team appearances since then. But he should be a regular after that.

“We are delighted that he chose FC Augsburg, especially over many well-known competitors,” Augsburg sporting director Stefan Reuter said at a press conference after the official announcement.

Germany has proven to be a great place for young Americans to improve in recent years. Chelsea’s Weston McKennie and Christian Pulisic started their professional careers there before being recruited by real Champions League contenders. The Bundesliga is currently home to several other top USMNT players including Chris Richards from Hoffenheim, Giovanni Reyna from Borussia Dortmund and Joe Scally from Gladbach.

It’s a top-five league in the world, maybe even a top-three. Still, the jump in speed of play, speed of thought and physically is not as pronounced as it would have been if Pepi had gone to an English Premier League side, which was another of his options. .

“He’s ready for the next step in his career, and Augsburg and certainly the Bundesliga are a great league for him to take that next step,” said US boss Gregg Berhalter, who knows Reuter well, having been coached by him at 1860 Munich in the mid-2000s. “We have seen first hand Ricardo’s ability to adapt to a higher level, and we are confident that he will be able to do so again.”

Pepi seems to have made a good first impression:

Yet any bold move comes with risks. Augsburg has only managed 17 goals in 17 games this season; the only two clubs with less are in the relegation zone. Pepi will come under immediate pressure to produce in order to keep the team in the top German field for a 12th consecutive year.

That’s a lot to ask of an 18-year-old who comes to a new country in the middle of a tough season. But it was Pepi’s dream. It would have been easy for him to stay close to his family in Dallas for another year. He did not have to potentially compromise his starting place with the USMNT to jump head first into the unknown.

“I wanted to do it this year because I think I’m ready,” he told ESPN Deportes after the deal was closed.

Now he has to prove it.

“He has to continue to develop and learn in an extremely competitive environment,” Garcia said. “That’s why he’s here. And he’s ready to break his tail.”

One of North America’s foremost football journalists, Doug McIntyre has covered the US men’s and women’s national teams in more than a dozen countries, including several FIFA World Cups. Prior to joining FOX Sports, the New York native was a writer for Yahoo Sports and ESPN. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

Get more from the FIFA Men’s World Cup Follow your favorites for information on games, news and more.

James R. Rhodes