Have the US Men’s National Team finally found their goalscoring striker for the next ten years? Filling the hole left by players like Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey has been problematic for head coach Gregg Berhalter, but it seems Richard Pepi could be the man.
Last month, he played a key role in a superb second half fightback against Honduras, scoring and inspiring the team to a fabulous 4-1 comeback victory.
Then yesterday, his two-goal salvo against Jamaica in Austin, Texas handed the USMNT a 2-0 victory which has taken them to the top of the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying table, ahead of Mexico on goal difference.
Jamaica Fortunate To End Half With 11 Men
The game started in frustrating fashion for US fans. Just 20 seconds in, Kemar Lawrence brutally brought down Paul Arriola with nobody between Arriola and the Jamaican goalkeeper.
— USMNT Only (@usmntonly) October 7, 2021
It was a straight red offense, but Reon Radix, the Grenadan referee, somewhat leniently awarded only a yellow.
Then in the 33rd minute, an even more blatant foul saw Damion Lowe bring down Brenden Aaronson right on the edge of the box again with only the goalkeeper to beat. This clearly was a red card.
Again, the official somehow only saw it as yellow.
Red card or clean tackle? Referee Reon Radix splits the difference and gives a yellow to Damion Lowe. #USMNT still 0-0 vs. Jamaica
— Planet Fútbol (@si_soccer) October 8, 2021
Jamaica were fortunate not just to go in at half time level, but with team that was not reduced to nine men. However, they could not take advantage of their good fortune as the USMNT continued their dominance of the game in the second half.
Pepi At The Double
Playing with a youthful zest, the US team didn’t let those decisions faze them. Four minutes into the second half, a lovely move involving Sergino Dest and Yunus Munsah saw Dest deliver a telling cross which Pepi headed home to send the Austin crowd wild.
DEST ➡️ PEPI 🔥
The USMNT go up 1-0 over Jamaica 🙌 pic.twitter.com/UmO45fcMnA
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) October 8, 2021
In scoring the goal, 18-year-old Pepi became the youngest player to ever score in back to back games for the USMNT.
However, the FC Dallas striker wasn’t finished yet. In the 62nd minute, Robinson and Aaronson combined to create a chance for Pepi, who had cleverly lost his marker, for the striker to slot home and send the fans wild with delight once again.
THE KID IS ON FIRE 🔥 pic.twitter.com/OMZIhLq3l0
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) October 8, 2021
With that goal, Pepi became the second youngest USMNT player to score more than one goal in a World Cup qualifying game, only behind the injured Christian Pulisic.
The striker was substituted shortly after, to rapturous applause from the fans who changed his name as he left the field.
“It’s a special feeling being able to just score here in Texas,” stated Pepi, a native of El Paso, after the game, “Not just just here in Texas but in front of our fans. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Rumours are a number of top European teams are keeping close tabs on FC Dallas’ 18 year old star striker and with performances like this, that interest is only likely to grow further.
CONCACAF World Cup Qualifier Standings
The USMNT victory combined with the 1-1 draw between Mexico and Canada in Mexico City meant that the United States team now top the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying Table on goal difference ahead of Mexico. Canada lie third two points behind after three draws and a win in their four games.
Pleasingly for coach Berhalter, his team have scored the most goals (7) and conceded the fewest (2 – jointly with Panama and Costa Rica) of all teams in the qualifiers.
Other results in the group saw Honduras and Costa Rica play out a 0-0 draw, with El Salvador inflicting Panama’s first defeat of the campaign with a 1-0 win at the Estadio Cuscatlan, Enrico Hernandez scoring the goal.
The USMNT travel to Panama for their next game on Sunday, before they then return home to face Costa Rica on Wednesday at Lower.com Field in Columbus, Ohio.
Two wins in those two games would be a huge boost towards the US hopes of qualifying for the World Cup in Qatar in December 2022.
And with Pepi leading the line, few would bet against this young and exciting USMNT achieving that feat, especially with players like Christian Pulisic and Giovanni Reyna to come into the fold once fit.