Ricardo Pepi Folarin BalogunGetty/GOAL

Ricardo Pepi relishing USMNT competition with new recruit Folarin Balogun: ‘It’s going to make me better’

  • Promising striker committed to the U.S.
  • Ready to compete in Nations League
  • Battle for competitive game time is on

WHAT HAPPENED? The United States prevailed in their tug of war with England when it came to Balogun’s allegiance at senior level, with the New York native opting to commit to the country of his birth. The highly-rated 21-year-old broke through the 20-goal barrier during a loan spell at Ligue 1 side Reims in the 2022-23 campaign. As a result, he will be thrown straight in by the United States as they ready themselves for CONCACAF Nations League and Gold Cup action this summer. Pepi will also form part of those plans - with 2022 World Cup selections Jesus Ferreira, Josh Sargent and Haji Wright all missing for various reasons – and he is excited by the impending battle for competitive game time.

WHAT THEY SAID: Pepi, who scored 12 goals during a loan spell of his own at Eredivisie side Groningen this season, has told Fox Sports of competing with Arsenal-owned Balogun: “It’s going to make me better, I’m going to make him better. He’s a good guy and on the pitch, we’re a team. We’re always trying to compete against each other. A lot of players here have competition in their own spots. Whether we play with one striker or two, it’s all up to the coach.”

THE BIGGER PICTURE: Pepi missed out on a place at Qatar 2022, but he has worked his way back into favour and believes he is a better player for his experiences in a testing campaign. He added – having suffered relegation with Groningen during his time in the Netherlands: “It was a hard season, a rollercoaster. I grew as a person on and off the pitch.”

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Folarin Balogun USMNT 2023Getty Images

Ricardo Pepi United States USMNTGetty

WHAT NEXT? The USMNT will be back in action on June 15 when facing neighbours Mexico in the Nations League semi-finals.