FRISCO, Tx. — As the 2019 U.S. Open Cup begins for Major League Soccer sides, FC Dallas will look to use its upcoming match against the Oklahoma City Energy of the USL Championship to experiment and play some youth.
Coach Luchi Gonzalez confirmed Tuesday that North Texas SC forward Ricardo Pepi will be starting for the first team in the match. Pepi has scored seven goals in six matches for the USL League One side and has continued to impress coaches with his rapid development at age 16. Alongside his performance at the club level, Pepi was recently called up to the U.S. squad in the Concacaf U-17 championships, where he tallied three goals, including two in the team’s 4-0 victory over Canada in the semifinals. FC Dallas acquired Pepi on a short-term loan in order for him to play in the match.
Gonzalez emphasized that this was another step for Pepi needed to grow and is eager to see him get the start Wednesday night, believing his young forward has earned the opportunity with his play.
“I think those steps with the different levels up and down especially at the young ages helps leadership, helps development,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a good cycle, I think, of learning and growing. That’s the step for Pepi, that’s the step for this team. We’re very confident he can take care of business at that position and is going to work to help this team defend well and press, then recover the ball and be a reference and dangerous. We can find him around the box and even away from the box. He makes runs, he’s doing a lot of things that are in line with our way. That’s the opportunity he’s earned, and we’re excited to have the experience tomorrow.”
Alongside Pepi, Bryan Reynolds will be making an appearance in the FC Dallas starting XI. Reynolds has come off the bench in four straight matches and has provided a spark, helping the team close out victories or push for a result when trailing.
However, Dallas is not taking the Energy lightly. Although it won’t be a first-choice starting lineup at an unfamiliar venue in Southern Methodist University’s Westcott Field, preparation has been the same as if the team was playing an MLS opponent at Toyota Stadium.
“It’s a different focus in terms of a regular season match, we always go into matches looking to win, but there is an added level of importance that it’s almost like a final,” midfielder Jacori Hayes said. “Every time you play, it could be the last game of the tournament. We definitely want to impose our will and it’s against OKC, who I’ve played before on Tulsa. It’s going to be a tough match. it’s always a tough first-round match against these USL teams. It’s a big game on their schedule and they play harder than they have all season so it’s going to be a tough match.”
In a win or go home match for FC Dallas, the different circumstances and the magic of the U.S. Open Cup will be against the established MLS side, but the team knows with a solid mentality and focus, it can move onto the next round and attempt to compete for the trophy, which it win in 2016.
“If we decide together consistently and with full effort and focus on our objectives for the game then we can continue in this tournament,” Gonzalez said. “If not, it could be over. It could be over if we don’t win the game. Exactly what you said is the focus, respecting them but having the opportunity that we want this more. We want this more. This is really important for our owners, our club, our players, our community and we want to leave everything on the field tomorrow.”