Ricardo Pepi scored his seventh goal coming off the bench last night.

The USMNT’s next superstar has come up clutch for PSV – & we’re boarding the hype train

When the Arctic Monkeys were 19 years old they us, “Don’t believe the hype.” Of course, everyone believed the hype and it turned out the hype was the truth. But hype is a dangerous thing, and Ricardo Pepi has been tussling with it since he was 13.

Football is steadily rising in popularity in the US. That’s not just a gut feeling — it’s a fact. According to a poll in The Washington Post in 2022, 8% if Americans rate football as their favourite sport, up from 2% back in 2004.

For comparison, baseball was the USA’s most popular sport in the 1960s with 34% of the population claiming it to be their favourite, whereas now, according to that same Washington Post poll, baseball has fallen to just 9% — only 1% higher than football.

Right, f*ck all that maths and percentages and what not — what has all this got to do with Ricardo Pepi? The Texan was a teenage sensation of a rapidly growing sport, in a country where fandom goes hard. That ain’t easy.

The US has had precious few genuinely top level outfield players over the years, but that is beginning to change, and Pepi became a name you’d hear muttered between people in the know.

Post match pints were like being in Harry Potter and the Chamber of f*cking Secrets. Every so often you’d hear, Pepi… Pepi… Pepi… in a distant whisper, unsure of where it was coming from.

Nobody knew much about him, but you knew he was real, and you knew he was shaping up to take Europe by storm. Like the Black Death, maybe.

Unlike the bubonic plague, Pepi scores goals and, as far as we’re aware, hasn’t been responsible for the deaths of 50,000,000 people. He was, however, responsible for the slaying FC Twente in the 97th minute of their game with PSV last night.

The assist came from Malik Tillman, another young American plying his trade out in Europe, with Ricardo arriving at just the right moment and providing a cool little side-footer into the corner.

His last second winner had Dutch journalists cursing and rewriting entire articles about PSV dropping points in the title race, and it also put Pepi joint-top of a ranking we’re going to dub ‘The Solskjaer Index’ — goals scored by a substitute — in any of Europe’s top ten leagues.

And that tells you something. The Texan is taking it slow, and that might just be a good thing.

As a kid, Pepi was a prodigy. At FC Dallas’s youth academy, he score 18 goals in 15 games for the under-13s, then 19 goals in eight matches for the under-17s, when he was just fifteen-years-old. That was all the coal the hype train needed to get moving out of the station, and it was soon chugging along at breakneck speed.

An important thing to know about the Hype Express (aka The Flying Hype Man) is that it can travel over water. By 2022 it had arrived in Augsberg, and a now 19-year-old Ricardo Pepi disembarked to begin his European adventure.

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Chelsea's Christian Pulisic celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the Champions League round of 16, first leg, soccer match between Chelsea and LOSC Lille at Stamford Bridge stadium in London, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022.
TRY A QUIZ: Can you name every American to score in the Champions League?

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It didn’t work out for him in Germany, but after a fairly prolific loan spell at Groningen, the red & white fellas in Eindhoven decided to snap up the Texas Hattiesnake (because he’s Texan and he scored a hat-trick on his debut for North Texas SC… and Stone Cold Steve Austin was the Texas Rattlesnake… If that nickname sticks, you read it here first).

The Flying Hype Man has slowed to a more comfortable pace, now. And that’s good. So many young ballers are hyped up to such a point that it’s impossible to handle the pressure, and they implode. Pepi is learning.

He’s watching, he’s analysing, and he’s coming off the bench to make a difference.

Seven goals in 21 appearances for a PSV team that is going to walk to the title this year is pretty good going. Pepi is still only 21, and rather than rotting on PSV’s bench, he is marinating.

He’s soaking up all the flavour from those more experienced players around him (sorry for that analogy) and, more importantly, he’s learning what it takes to win titles.

The next time you hear the hype about Ricardo Pepi, you’d better believe it.

By Andrew Martin

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TRY A QUIZ: Can you name every American to have played in the Champions League?