Bavarian outfit FC Augsburg defied all odds at the start of the winter transfer window by shaking off competition to sign US Men’s National Team starlet Ricardo Pepi for €16m ($20m) – the highest transfer fee paid for an outgoing MLS homegrown player. With numerous European heavyweights such as Milan, Bayern Munich, Ajax, Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund hot on the trail of the former Dallas FC talent, Augsburg emerged as the unlikeliest of destinations for the 19-year-old.
Shortly after signing with the ‘Fuggerstädter’, came his debut in the Bundesliga. It was never going to be easy for struggling Augsburg to pick up pace as soon as they onboarded a striker, albeit an inexperienced one – yet to play his first match in Europe.
High-flying Hoffenheim, who sit in the top four, were the first team Pepi faced as a substitute, before making his full debut in the encounter against Oliver Glasner’s Eintracht Frankfurt a week later.
This report takes a look at Pepi’s first two Augsburg performances, wherein he managed to register 114 minutes of game time – against the two aforementioned teams. Although the data present isn’t adequate to carefully judge the potential heights he can reach, it nonetheless gives an idea as to what we can expect from the marksman.
The USMNT starlet entered the Bundesliga spotlight in the 60th minute, as Markus Weinzierl introduced the youngster for striker Andi Zeqiri. He tried to help his side rescue a point but, in the end, his exploits weren’t nearly enough as Hoffenheim struck right at the death once again to triple their lead and register a remarkable comeback at the expense of the relegation candidates.
Pepi didn’t look out of place right from the outset and he clutched his position in the frontline with dominion, although he hadn’t trained properly for one and a half months previously. He wasn’t around the ball much, and had only nine touches, as Hoffenheim dominated possession in the second half. Despite only touching the ball so many times, he registered four passes with a 100% completion rate – not misplacing any although he was pressurized by the hosts’ backline.
Playing his first game in nearly a month, he was energetic, fit and ready to press the defense in a jiffy, and also gave defenders Kevin Vogt, Stefan Posch and fellow American youngster Chris Richards couple of headaches inside the box during attacks by getting into optimal positions – as relayed by the ESPN review of his first Bundesliga performance in Bundesliga.
Pepi’s second match in the Augsburg jersey was one that provided more of an insight into the youngster’s potential. He started the match with great strength and even came close to scoring in the initial minutes, only for the offside flag to rule him out.
Throughout the match – until the 84th minute, he was ever-active upfront. The striker managed to get two shots on target and made one key pass during his stay on the pitch. Augsburg was largely pushed on the backfoot against Frankfurt, due to which Pepi’s teammates could not feed him well enough to have an edge.
He registered a pass accuracy rate of 68.2%, which is not all that impressive given the fact that he managed to successfully pass just 15 of the 22 attempts throughout the match. Also, with his 36 touches on-field, he dribbled successfully through the opponent lines on just one occasion, out of three attempts.
Pepi is a confident player who is still in the baby years of his playing career, aged just 19. To expect too much from him would be a big ask. He has great potential to unleash his goalscoring prowess, given the fact that he is surrounded by worthy and unselfish teammates who can provide the striker with all he needs to showcase his true strengths in the final third. In the space of 114 minutes, Pepi has marginally demonstrated his attacking prowess and one can only expect him to showcase more in the coming matchdays.
According to statistics provided by football betting sites, Augsburg is one of this campaign’s most underwhelming sides – having lost or drawn more than triple the games they have won so far. With the aforementioned resource, one can gain a deeper understanding of betting markets and nuances of how one can place their hand. Players, whether old or new, can benefit from a plethora of rewards such as free bets, cashback, and loyalty points, among other things.
While it may not outright seem like the most intelligent of decisions by Pepi to head to a relegation-bound club, only time will tell whether his decision was fruitful or not. He, however, joins an exclusive list of homegrown MLS talents who have taken or will take the Bundesliga by storm in the coming seasons.