The clock is ticking and the 2026 World Cup, set to be hosted in the United States, Mexico and Canada is fast approaching. Thankfully, the USMNT have a crop of young ballers already blossoming on the elite European stage.
1994 was the last time the States hosted football’s premier competition. A 1-0 defeat in the last 16 to eventual winners Brazil was all she wrote for the United States that summer and it would be another two years before the country’s new top-flight football division officially kicked off.
Major League Soccer finally got underway with its inaugural season in 1996, a league set up in order to bolster the country’s bid for the 1994 World Cup and an attempt to recapture some of the magic that was the North American Soccer League (NASL) back in the late 1970s.
The MLS has essentially been on the back foot ever since it first kicked off, trying to live up to the stardom of the NASL while also trying to sell a sport to a country which was already enchanted by other sports involving oddly shaped balls.
It still gets a tough time today from most of us Europeans across the pond, but somewhat unfairly so. Long gone are the days of goalie wars, vanity signings, obscene kits and *those* 1v1 penalties.
Thankfully, Ricardo Pepi will have no recollection of those dark days.
He’s probably never even heard of goalie wars – and his sole focus going forward will be flying the flag for the USMNT as they look to wow the world almost 30 years on from their last World Cup.
Having watched the 20-year-old striker strut his stuff for PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League, it’s hard to see a world where he doesn’t flourish on home soil in 2026, as the spearhead of a youthful and increasingly exciting American outfit.
Born in 2005, Pepi has been playing football since the age of four and had fired himself into the youth academy at FC Dallas by 13.
A new generation of athlete, football is engrained in the Texan centre-forward – which became immediately evident with how he set up and finished the winner for PSV against Sevilla in a late 3-2 victory.
Dropping deep into his own half to start the move, Pepi started and finished a move in a way that would bring a tear to peak Dimitar Berbatov’s eye, flicking the ball around the defender he’d sucked in like a fool before bursting up the field.
With jaws on the floor around the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan, the rest was a formality for the USMNT’s starboy.
Another thing I find insane about this goal: for every CL group stage win, PSV gets 2.8M euros. And it's estimated that they'll get 9.6M euros for going to the next round.
So…with this one goal, Pepi has basically paid off his transfer fee?!pic.twitter.com/pY1A7Oi6te
— José C. Pérez (@jcperez_) November 29, 2023
As match winners go, that is rather special.
In a matter of seconds, a mighty European outfit had been stunned by the USMNT’s very own asset and in spectacular fashion. He makes it look ridiculously easy.
Pepi is already showing that age is merely a number at 20, with technical ability and physical attributes that transcend his career timeline.
With little under three years to go until the World Cup kicks off across the States, Canada and Mexico, it’s frightening to think just how much time Pepi has to sharpen his game among some of the world’s best in the time between.
After years in the dark as the butt of the joke, the USMNT can finally boast some of the best young talent in Europe.
At the very front of that might well be Pepi, who already looks destined to drag his club and country to victory when the chips are down.
It’s an incredibly exciting time to be following both him and his nation.
By Mitch Wilks