'He's ready to perform' - Berhalter backs Pepi ahead of USMNT friendly vs Saudi Arabia

Ricardo Pepi USMNT 2022Getty Images
  • Pepi went almost a year without scoring
  • Has struggled after a breakout 2021
  • Some questioned his September USMNT call-up

WHAT HAPPENED? Struggling striker Ricardo Pepi has the full support of USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter, who confirmed the 19-year-old will start Tuesday's pre-World Cup friendly against Saudi Arabia in Murcia, Spain, while also backing the player to rediscover his breakout form in 2021 that led to FC Augsburg paying FC Dallas a record $20 million for his transfer in January.

WHAT THEY SAID: "I don't need him to score five goals tomorrow. We need him to play like a forward in our system and hopefully he gets opportunities and hopefully he takes the opportunity as well," Berhalter said of Pepi.

"He has this brightness in his eyes. He's ready to perform, and it's good to see that. I know that it hasn't been easy for Rico in the last few months, and it's good to see him have a different demeanor."

THE BIGGER PICTURE: Pepi's performance on Tuesday will be under the microscope, following a goal-scoring drought that lasted 345 days until he finally found the back of the net in his last game for FC Groningen - where he's currently on loan from Augsburg after failing to make an impact in the Bundesliga. Berhalter's loyalty to Pepi - at the expense of the more in-form Jordan Pefok - will also be judged harshly should things go poorly against Saudi Arabia.

IN THREE PHOTOS:

Ricardo Pepi GroningenTwitterRicardo Pepi USMNT 2021Getty ImagesPepi USMNT Honduras 2022Getty

WHAT NEXT FOR PEPI? A spot in the USMNT World Cup squad could be on the line for Pepi during Tuesday's friendly against Saudi Arabia. He'll get a chance to prove himself from the opening whistle.

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