FRISCO, Tx. — When forward Ricardo Pepi became the first player to sign for North Texas Soccer Club, FC Dallas’ USL League One team, there was plenty of hype around the then-15-year-old, who had scored 19 goals in eight games for the team’s U-17 Academy team.
A mere seven months later, Pepi is now the first player to go fully through the new developmental pipeline, playing with the academy, second team, and now, joining the first team.
Pepi is FC Dallas‘ 26th Homegrown Player and the first signed from NTSC, the team announced Friday. Pepi has acclimated to the pro game quickly, scoring seven goals in six matches for the League One side. His performance earned him a short-term loan opportunity with FCD, playing 90 minutes in the team’s 4-0 victory over the Oklahoma City Energy during the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
“This opportunity is a great opportunity,” Pepi told Pro Soccer USA. “Obviously, it allows me to keep growing as a player and continue my professional career. It’s a great opportunity that the club has given me and I’m just ready to step up and win a position.”
Although relatively quick, the signing secures one of the team’s prized products from the academy. Former academy director and current first-team coach Luchi Gonzalez has not been afraid to play his younger players. Midfielders Paxton Pomykal, Edwin Cerrillo and Thomas Roberts, defenders John Nelson and Reggie Cannon, and forward Jesus Ferriera have all played substantial minutes for the team, with the six players making up 26 percent of the team’s playing time in 16 MLS matches.
“Pepi is showing he can impact,” Gonzalez told Pro Soccer USA. “That’s why the club is taking these steps. It’s a special signing because of Pepi taking the steps. He’s not trying to skip any steps, but respecting the pathway, from the affiliate to the youth, to the academy, to the second team, to the first team. The second team will still be important to Pepi. This doesn’t mean he’s not going to need the second team for games. He absolutely needs the second team, so does his other teammates on the first team.”
The fact that he’s taking steps and he’s shown a commitment to the club all the way through the steps and he just wants to keep working hard and contribute. If he’s given the opportunity, that’s his only focus and our only focus. If it means he’s going to get a game today, tomorrow, this week, this month, we’re going give him that responsibility if he’s earned it, which he has.”
Pepi’s rapid rise has even surprised himself. The forward turned 16 in January and has continued to impress with his 6-foot-1 and final touch on the ball.
“I thought it was going to take a little bit longer and get some more minutes with North Texas,” Pepi said. “But this day came and I’m ready to take the opportunity.”
FC Dallas has slowly been incorporating Pepi into the first team training as he continued his stellar play. Those moments, coinciding with the Open Cup debut, gave Pepi an idea that his day to sign with FCD was coming.
“I was getting some training with them and everything was going good,” Pepi said. “Before, I trained, and it was a little bit off. I didn’t really get the ball and now I’m feeling more confident and I knew this day was going to come, but not this quick.”
Pepi credits North Texas SC for allowing him to grow and earn experience as a professional. His goals for the team have provided a spark, including the team’s first ever hat trick in a 3-2 win over the Chattanooga Red Wolves on March 30. Pepi followed that performance with a late penalty goal in a 1-0 victory on April 13 against Forward Madison FC. One of the more impressive goals was his strike against Lansing Ignite off a free kick, to give Dallas a late point in a 2-2 draw on May 18.
— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) May 19, 2019
“Having the USL there helps a lot,” Pepi said. “There’s a lot of players over there that have a lot of talent and we work for each other, we help each other out, we make each other better. Obviously, it helps when the coach and coaching staff is good.”
While there’s excitement on a day like this for the young forward, he knows the job is just beginning. The opportunities given and the signing have only made him hungrier for success at an even higher level.
“It was a lot of excitement for me and my family,” Pepi said. “I’m proud of myself but I know it’s not the end, so we’re going to keep on working hard. I’m never gonna stop.”