'If it were easy, everyone would do it' - USMNT ace Pepi dealing with difficult start to life at Augsburg

Ricardo Pepi Augsburg 2021-22Getty Images

Throughout the course of a 30-minute roundtable with media, Ricardo Pepi keeps repeating one word: risk.

He brings it up when talking about his decision to move to relegation-threatened Augsburg – despite offers from teams higher up in the European ladder.

He uses it to describe the Bavarians' club-record €18 million (£15m/$20m) investment in his services.

And he says it's a part of his outlook on life. No risk, no reward, he says, adding that the only way to truly win big is to go out on a limb.

It's early days but, nearly two months into his Bundesliga career, we've seen the downsides of that risk. Both Augsburg and Pepi are struggling.

The striker has yet to find the back of the net for a side sitting 16th in the standings.

In fact, Pepi hasn't scored a goal for club or country since October, with the teenager experiencing the first real dry spell of his fledgling career.

"I feel like there's some pressure," Pepi acknowledges. "I came to this team for a reason and that's to develop.

"Obviously, it was a big transfer but now, being in the team, I feel more comfortable every week that passes by.

"I’m patient but also really, really anxious to score my first goal for sure. It's a big investment, for sure, but I think, if it were easy, everyone would do it.

"I'm a young player moving from MLS to this league, so that's a big step. I feel like I have to be patient with myself and I have to work every day to become a better player and be able to succeed in this league.

"Every day I'm preparing well. I'm feeling better. I'm feeling more confident day by day."

Despite the tough start, it's important to remember why the marriage between Pepi and Augsburg happened in the first place.

In Pepi, Augsburg saw a potential star, one that had been linked to clubs much bigger than they are, a player who could someday be sold for an enormous profit.

And, in Augsburg, Pepi saw a club that would give him a chance to grow, both in the short and long term. He would get his chance to prove himself from the get-go, but he also wouldn't be immediately cast aside if things weren't going well.

He's featured in five games to date and while he has yet to get off the mark, that's partly down to a lack of game time, as Pepi has played just over 200 minutes.

He hasn't started since a January 5-1 battering at the hands of Bayer Leverkusen, with his last three appearances all coming off the bench.

However, because of that transfer fee and the club's current position, the hope was that Pepi would hit the ground running.

Basement battlers clubs don't break transfer records to sign 'projects'; they do it to bring in players capable of helping them survive.

As it turns out, though, the 19-year-old striker has needed some time to adjust to everything going on for him on and off the field.

During his time in MLS, Pepi made most things look effortless, but a move to the Bundesliga is a whole different test.

"I feel like the biggest adjustment has been the general lifestyle over here," he said. "It's a little bit different than it is in the U.S. and, obviously, the style of play here in the club is different.

"With FC Dallas, we're more used to a slower pace, keeping the ball and here it's a little faster.

"In Germany, everything's faster, everything's just more intense. But it's coming day by day and it's coming slowly, for sure."

Crucially, Pepi says he feels comfortable off the field. He's taking German classes to better acclimate himself to his new country.

His living situation, he says, has been taken care of by the club, who have made sure he wants for nothing.

Adjusting on the field won't be easy, of course. As well as the quicker pace of the player, it's worth remembering that at FC Dallas, and with the U.S., Pepi was a focal point, the lone striker whose biggest responsibility is getting goals.

With Augbsurg, he's just another player in the team, one that is sometimes thrust into unfamiliar roles.

"I feel like there are major differences from playing at FC Dallas," he admits. "Here, we play more with two strikers, or sometimes I find myself playing more like a right striker, so these are the things that are a little bit different because I was our central striker at FC Dallas.

"There's a lot more running, there's a lot more intensity, defenders are a lot more intense or a lot more aggressive. So, you have to get used to that."

The U.S. men's national team will obviously hope he starts firing again sooner rather than later.

There are three crucial World Cup qualifying games around the corner, and Gregg Berhalter will need Pepi back at his best.

The U.S. will face Mexico, Panama and Costa Rica in March in three games that will determine whether or not they head to Qatar this winter. Those are three difficult matches and they'll likely need a goal or two from Pepi or whomever starts at striker.

Pepi scored three goals in his first two games for the U.S., bursting on the scene in emphatic fashion while establishing himself as American soccer's next star, but he has yet to score in his seven caps since.

Still, despite his goalless streak, Pepi insists his self-belief isn't shaken by the last few months.

"It’s about confidence," he says. "Augsburg, they made the big transfer because they had confidence in me and they wanted me to come to the team.

"If someone has confidence in you, then there's no better feeling as a striker, as a player. I want to go and represent that club well because they gave me that confidence and they paid the big transfer fee.

"I'm here to give back to the team."

The best way to do that would obviously be by helping them avoid relegation.

Augsburg face Borussia Dortmund this weekend in what will certainly be a tough match, but their next two matches are against Arminia Bielefeld and Stuttgart, two clubs that also find themselves near the foot of the table.

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Maybe those will be the magic games for Pepi. Maybe they won't. But he says that goal is coming sooner rather than later and he's willing to stick it out until it does.

"You have to take risks in life because sometimes you win," he says. "When you take the risk, you're growing as a person.

"I knew it was going to be a big risk for my playing time and just being comfortable ahead of the World Cup, but I was willing to take the risk and now I'm here and I'm ready to work and do whatever I can to help the team."