On Sunday Ricardo Pepi made his debut for Dutch side FC Groningen contributing an assist for their winning goal in a 1-0 victory over Cambuur. Pepi played 45 minutes after coming on at half. He won two tackles, getting the all-important interception that led to his assist. The 19-year-old American has had a rough start to life in Europe after moving from FC Dallas to FC Augsburg in January but a change of scenery in the Eredivisie could give Pepi the confidence and the playing time that he needs.
Here's his assist to Tomas Suslov:
Pepi hasn't scored a club goal since Sept. 30 2021 for FC Dallas but this assist was his first goal contribution since November's World Cup Qualifying match versus Jamacia. In that time, a lot has changed for El Tren. He was set to be one of the first names on the teamsheet for Gregg Berhalter at the World Cup in Qatar while also being a spark plug to save Augsburg from relegation, but the adjustment from Major League Soccer to Europe is a steep one.
Heading to Groningen on loan is a chance for Pepi to get his feet under him. In joining manager Frank Wormuth, who used to manage the German U-20 team, Pepi is in a place where player development is put first. After a strong showing in his first 45 minutes for the club, things are looking up for Pepi.
His defensive work has always been a hallmark of his game but at Augsburg, but he didn't get the service required to go for goal. Making runs and assisting others while rounding out his game in the Eredivisie will help give Pepi a shot at making the World Cup that seemed lost in July when Berhalter left him off the summer roster.
Looking at the other forwards in the pool, Pepi's spot is far from guaranteed because every forward sees the opportunity to make it to Qatar. Josh Sargent is starring at Norwich City in the Championship with five goals and an assist in eight matches, Jordan Pefok and Union Berlin are atop the Bundesliga with two goals and two assists through five matches, and Haji Wright has permanently joined Antalyaspor and has taken a step forward with five goals in six matches. Even in MLS, Jesus Ferreira (18 goals) and Brandon Vazquez (16 goals) are fighting for the Golden Boot.
To beat out that group for a trip to Qatar, Pepi has a lot of work to do but consistency is where things begin. Getting an assist Sunday was hopefully enough to earn him a start so that he can also end his goal drought that has almost reached a year. Pepi's next match will be an away clash with Sparta Rotterdam on September 17th. A good showing in that match would see Pepi come into the September international break in good form just in time for a critical window when the USMNT will face Japan and Saudi Arabia. It's in his hands to take the chances that he'll have, but it all starts with playing time and earning more of it.