It would be easy to say that Ricardo Pepi is a traitor. After all, he was caught on camera wearing the Netherlands jersey in a Dutch nightclub after Team USA’s loss to the Dutch in the FIFA World Cup. But upon closer inspection, it’s clear there may be more to this story than meets the eye.
The United States was eliminated from the tournament in the round of 16, as the Netherlands advanced to the quarterfinals with a 3-1 victory in Qatar 2022.
After being cut from the roster by FC Augsburg’s head coach Gregg Berhalter, Pepi was loaned to Dutch club FC Groningen of the Eredivisie league. On the other hand, he brought up front men Jesus Ferreira, Josh Sargent, and Haji Wright.
However, in the World Cup qualifiers, Pepi stood out as a true star, contributing three goals in 10 games for the United States. But Berhalter said, “The Dutch league, I think it’s a great league, but it doesn’t bring the same physicality that the Premier League of the [EFL] Champions brings. That was something that went into the decision.”
Sargent is a Norwich City FC member who competes in the EFL Championship. Ferreira played in the MLS for FC Dallas this season, scoring 18 goals in 35 games, while Wright is currently playing for Antalyaspor in the Turkish Super Lig.
Wright scored the lone goal for the United States in the second half against the Dutch after a cross from Christian Pulisic found the bottom of his boot.
Pepi called Berhalter’s decision not to include him on the World Cup roster “disappointing.”
“Disappointing because I felt like I gave myself the best opportunities to be in the World Cup roster,” Pepi said in a post-match interview in November via mlssoccer.com. “I felt like I had a chance, but also not disappointing at the same time because, like I said, I did my thing, I went out there, I played many minutes, I scored my goals. I’m really happy with that situation.
“At the end of the day, it’s a coach’s decision that I can’t control.”
When Pepi moved to Augsburg from FC Dallas, he reportedly cost the club $20 million. After scoring 13 goals and adding two assists in 31 games in 2021, he was awarded the MLS Young Player of the Year.
“I feel like once [Berhalter] told me, I wanted to flip the page as soon as possible and just focus on the game now. I can’t keep thinking about why I didn’t make it or why I did,” Pepi said.
Pepi will look forward to the year 2026, when the United States, Mexico, and Canada will host an extended version of the FIFA World Cup. On that day, Pepi will turn 23 years old.