Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Ricardo Pepi transfer: USMNT and FC Dallas striker completes Bundesliga move to relegation-threatened Augsburg

United States men’s national team striker Ricardo Pepi has completed his transfer from FC Dallas to FC Augsburg of the German Bundesliga, the European club announced on Monday. The 18-year-old talent, courted by big clubs such as Ajax and Borussia Dortmund, ends up in an interesting spot with the team in the thick of the relegation battle in the German top flight, but it presents quite the opportunity for the player with the squad lacking quality and depth at the No. 9 position.

He signed a contract until 2026 with an option for an additional year.

Pepi exploded in MLS this past season with 13 goals in 31 games and became the starting striker for the USMNT in World Cup qualifying, scoring the winner against Honduras in his debut on Sept. 8 before grabbing both goals against Jamaica on Oct. 7.

The saga is over

The move is the end of a transfer saga with FC Dallas where the player went to the club multiple times to requested a transfer, sources tell CBS Sports. He wanted out to further his development and truly test himself, while his MLS club remained strong in what they wanted, even hoping to keep him through the season and see him explode at the World Cup.

In the end, FC Dallas wanted more than the $13.5 million they were being offered, and it was surprising Augsburg that came through with a staggering offer in the range of $20 million, according to CBS soccer insider Fabrizio Romano.

Augsburg are currently one point above the relegation zone with a 4-6-7 record, averaging just one goal per game. They’ve only lost one out of their last five, putting themselves in a salvageable spot at the halfway point of the season.

Why Augsburg?

For Pepi, it is a curious move but one that makes plenty of sense when you think about it. While most fans would have preferred to see him at a bigger club, you have to remember we are now in a World Cup year and the priority has to be playing and fostering that development. While he would have seen minutes in MLS, obviously, playing in the Bundesliga gives him the opportunity to face much superior competition on a more consistent basis, even just in training. In matches, going up against the likes of Dayon Upamecano of Bayern Muich, Manuel Akanji of Borussia Dortmund and others should only test him and make him better. 

Additionally, let’s not beat around the bush — Augsburg really need help in attack. Nobody has reached even five goals so far this season with veteran Florian Niederlechner having four.

As of late, the team has also improved in its ability to look more dangerous going forward by way of simply having more of the ball. The team has surpassed 1.0 xG in each of the past five games, including a 2.99 against Bochum. In the eight games before that, they surpassed 1.0 xG just once. Part of that has been due to a massive improvement in amount of possession, averaging 44 percent in their last five, up 13 percent over the three preceding games. 

What will make this a successful move?

Well, that will take time to see. There is no doubt that the hope is that this can be the stepping stone for him to then move to a big club, but that is not his focus at the moment. With Augsburg, there is an opportunity to play early and often and help this team stay up.

Success will largely be measured by him consistently contributing in attack and helping the team stay up, but it is more much than that. Going up against more physical defenders, what will be key will be showing his durability, showing that he can hold up play with his back to goal and then get things going from there. Augsburg aren’t blessed with the attacking quality he has played with on the United States men’s national team, so patience will be needed. Don’t expect a massive instant impact, but also don’t be shocked if he does come in and light it up just like he did with the red, white and blue, proving skeptics wrong once again.

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