News Live Scores
United States

USMNT wonderkid Pepi needs Augsburg 'risk' to pay off in World Cup year

12:00 GMT 27/01/2022
Ricardo Pepi Augsburg 2021-22
The 18-year-old has moved to a relegation-threatened side in Germany where goalscoring chances will be hard to come by

Augsburg announced their record signing, Ricardo Pepi, with great fanfare on their English-language social media platforms, even using the slogan "Pepi Hype Train" in their unveiling video.

Since then, the 18-year-old American's every move has been catalogued and broadcast by the Bundesliga outfit, who are looking not only to get a return on their $18 million (£13.5m) investment on the pitch, but also build a bigger following in the United States.

Almost every day since they signed him, Augsburg have posted an update accompanied by a train emoji, a reference to the nickname originally coined by FC Dallas fans for the wonderkid back in 2019 when he was "steamrolling" opponents.

Pepi was a phenomenon in MLS, becoming the youngest player in the league's history to score a hat-trick before netting the winning penalty in the 2021 MLS All-Star Game.

So, while nobody was surprised that the USMNT ace decided to move to Europe in January, a few eyebrows were raised when people learned of the next destination for 'El Tren'.

Augsburg's previous record signing was Austrian defender Martin Hinteregger back in 2016-17, while the Bavarians currently sit 16th in the Bundesliga standings.

Pepi has previously impressed in a struggling side – scoring 13 goals in 31 games for an FC Dallas team which won just seven of its Western Conference games in 2021.

But MLS teams never fear relegation, unlike Augsburg, who are two points from safety after 20 rounds of Bundesliga action.

The level of opponent in Germany is also much higher and will be particularly tough for a teenager getting used to the country, the culture and the language.

Former USMNT and Bayern Munich head coach Jurgen Klinsmann believes that Pepi has taken a big gamble by joining Augsburg..

"He's a huge talent, but that's what he is, a huge talent," Klinsmann told GOAL.

"At that age, going from the United States to the Bundesliga and giving it a shot is extremely courageous. I think it's great, but it carries risk.

"He's not going into a team who will provide him with four or five goalscoring chances each game.

"He's going to a team who fights relegation in the Bundesliga. The question is, how many chances does he get to score a goal in a game? This is the delicate part of his transfer.

"I hope it works out and he is given time to succeed and develop. I hope he is not purely measured on goals.

"He definitely has the talent, but as many authors have written, talent is only 50 per cent of your game.

"Success also depends on your team-mates, your environment, your lifestyle and so many other factors.

"It is courageous, this move, and we keep our fingers crossed for him that it will work out."

Augsburg have drawn one and lost two of Pepi's first three Bundesliga games, with the forward lasting 57 minutes of a 5-1 defeat to Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday.

Klinsmann's prediction that Pepi would have few chances has so far proved correct.

Across his first three games, Pepi has attempted just four shots, with only one forcing the goalkeeper into a save.

This season could prove a steep learning curve for a young man with huge ambitions.

Pepi hopes to be the first-choice striker for the USMNT at the World Cup in Qatar, but may need his international form to prove his ability to coach Gregg Berhalter.

"If I keep working and I keep showing that I have that specialty, I believe that I can be [the USMNT No. 9]," Pepi told ESPN.

Three goals in seven international appearances was a good return in 2021, but 2022 is where Pepi must show his worth.

Augsburg have some tricky ties on the horizon, with Union Berlin, Borussia Monchengladbach, Freiburg and Borussia Dortmund to come in February.

Goalscoring chances will remain at a premium against most of those defences, so this weekend's fixtures for the USMNT come at the perfect time.

Klinsmann is undoubtedly right: joining Ausgburg was a big risk for Pepi. But his bravery can be rewarded on the international stage.

The hype train that has arrived in Augsburg having departed Dallas at the start of January could yet end up in Qatar in November.