There was at all times going to be a interval of adaptation. Ricardo Pepi is nineteen years outdated. He was 18 when his $20 million switch to FC Augsburg was confirmed. Prior to his breakout 2021 season with FC Dallas, he’d performed simply 528 minutes in Major League Soccer.
To count on the United States males’s nationwide group ahead to saunter into the Bundesliga and keep it up performing as he had in North America, the place he instantly contributed to a purpose each 140 minutes final season, was unreasonable — though such a switch payment just about assured these expectations. However, 4 months into Pepi’s European profession and with only one recreation remaining within the 2021-22 marketing campaign, in opposition to SpVgg Greuther Furth (Saturday at 9:25 a.m. ET, stream reside on ESPN+), did anybody envision him nonetheless being goalless after 11 appearances and 475 minutes performed?
“Being on a run of 23 video games with out scoring [with Augsburg, the USMNT and Dallas], it is clear that at some level the barren spell turns into a confidence concern,” scout and former AS Monaco sporting director Tor-Kristian Karlsen instructed ESPN. “The weight on his shoulders of the switch payment may also be enjoying its half.”
ESPN’s lead Bundesliga commentator, Derek Rae, additionally famous Pepi’s insecurity, saying he has reduce a lonely determine on the pitch. “That stands in distinction to the assured, mature-beyond-his-years impression Pepi left on everybody upon his arrival within the Fuggerstadt,” he added.
As Rae prompt, Pepi’s begin to life in Germany was a optimistic one. He was “assured” and “full of life,” in line with Karlsen, in his Jan. 16 debut in opposition to TSG Hoffenheim, regardless of the 3-1 defeat. However, that 30-minute substitute look “probably goes down as his excessive level on the pitch to date,” Rae mentioned.
So what’s gone improper for Pepi in his first half-season in Germany? And what, if something, has gone proper?
Where there may be room for enchancment
Right off the bat, let’s get this reasonably massive caveat out of the way in which. Only on Sunday night time did Augsburg lastly stave off the specter of relegation and verify their place within the Bundesliga subsequent season. With the specter of lacking out on first-division soccer in 2022-23, FCA have been by no means going to be significantly smitten by placing their religion in an adolescent, by no means thoughts one nonetheless adapting to European soccer, missing in confidence and finish product. That can go some approach to explaining his that includes in simply 33% of Augsburg’s whole minutes since becoming a member of the membership in January.
More tangibly, there are three areas by which Pepi’s struggles have manifested themselves: his motion, his lack of touches and his incapability to say himself bodily. “More than something, he must get into the circulation of the video games,” Karlsen mentioned. “At occasions he is chasing shadows and coming into the motion a break up second too late, as if he begins his actions solely at the second the ball is being performed.”
That incapability to anticipate alternatives lends itself to a scarcity of touches. Pepi is averaging 32.9 touches per 90 minutes, in contrast with 41.2 per 90 from Michael Gregoritsch, the Texan’s major competitors for Augsburg’s center-forward berth. The proven fact that Pepi and Gregoritsch have comparatively comparable figures within the opposition penalty space (3.4 per 90 for Pepi, 4.0 for Gregoritsch) counsel the Dallas academy graduate’s lack of involvement is coming within the buildup part. That’s echoed by Pepi’s 18.1 cross makes an attempt per 90, contrasted in opposition to Gregoritsch’s 25.5.
Finally, regardless of what many American followers could really feel is a modest 6-foot, 163-pound body, Pepi has the construct to impose himself bodily on opposition defenses. Karlsen famous that the U.S. worldwide is profitable simply 19% of his aerial duels with Augsburg, down from 35% in Dallas final season.
The foundations Pepi can construct on
It’s not all doom and gloom, although. Despite the truth that Pepi has been an unused substitute in two of Augsburg’s previous three video games, there are indicators of the beginnings of a turnaround.
Beyond the relegation battle Augsburg discovered themselves in, there are strategies that Pepi has prioritized accountable play as a way of incomes his on-field alternatives “Last month, supervisor Markus Weinzierl conceded that Pepi would not get quite a lot of freedom within the Augsburg system to only wait up entrance and search for a second to pounce,” Rae mentioned. “He has to do a copious quantity of defending, too, which Weinzierl has praised him for.”
Karlsen additionally took discover of the ahead’s off-the-ball contributions, calling particular consideration to his urgent recreation and his defensive inputs, significantly from set items. He additionally famous that the El Paso native seems to be rising extra attuned to the actions of his teammates, and higher ready to anticipate them.
Where he goes from right here
If there’s a chorus when discussing Pepi’s steep studying curve within the Bundesliga, it is “endurance.”
One of the most important issues younger gamers need to take note of when weighing up a transfer from MLS to Europe is circumstance. As former U.S. worldwide Michael Parkhurst, talking from private expertise, as soon as put it: “It’s all about getting in the correct spot. You might go to England and be in an awesome group in an awesome spot, or you could possibly go to England on a horrible group the place you are combating relegation and the coach would not such as you.”
The threat was there from the second Pepi signed with Augsburg. This was a membership flirting with relegation upon his arrival in January; when the strain rose, would the alternatives nonetheless be there? Not to the diploma most followers on this facet of the Atlantic would’ve preferred.
But with one other season within the Bundesliga secured, Augsburg can regroup in the summertime. Pepi can unplug, recuperate and return for a full preseason of integration, higher ready for an additional season in considered one of Europe’s Big Five leagues.
“It is a really laborious, however great faculty,” Rae mentioned of the schooling Pepi is receiving at the WWK Arena. “He’ll profit from it in the long term, although it might not seem that approach to some now.
“Everyone, particularly U.S. followers, merely need to be affected person. He made this transfer for a motive.”