Making The Case: Ricardo Pepi for U.S. Soccer Male Player of the Year

For someone who grew up under the west Texas sun, Ricardo Pepi’s 2023 was remarkably defined by the ice in his veins. The 20-year-old continually came up clutch with late goals galore for both club and country throughout the calendar year, helping him earn a spot among this year’s U.S. Soccer Male Player of the Year nominees.

READ MORE: 2023 Male Player of the Year Nominees

Fans will have the opportunity to vote on select Player of the Year Awards, with the fan vote comprising 15% of the total vote. Nominees for all awards are selected by U.S. Soccer’s technical staff. Voting for the awards began on Monday, Dec. 11 and closes on Monday, Dec. 18. The winners will be announced in the weeks that follow.

VOTE NOW: Fan Voting for 2023 Player of the Year Awards

Read through some of the highlights of Pepi’s calendar year:

  • Pepi started only twice for the USMNT this year, but co-led all field players in total appearances with 10. That amount is level with Brendan Aaronson and Yunus Musah.
  • The El Paso, Texas native made the most of his time on the field, scoring seven goals for the USMNT in just 364 minutes played. That’s an average of one goal every 52 minutes, comfortably the highest scoring rate this year among the current player pool.
  • Pepi feasted on late opportunities all year long, with 14 of his 19 total goals scored across club and international competition coming in the final 30 minutes of play. Seven of them were scored after the 80th minute, and four were in the 90th minute or later.
  • Pepi got off to a blistering start on the international level this year, scoring three times across the team’s two games in Concacaf Nations League Group D play in late March. He scored the first and sixth goals in a 7-1 rout of Grenada on March 24, before netting the 62nd minute match-winner in the team’s 1-0 win against El Salvador three days later.
  • In the Nations League semifinal against Mexico, Pepi provided the 78th minute exclamation point on a 3-0 win in Las Vegas, which sent the USMNT through to the final against Canada that they ultimately won 2-0.
  • In November, when Nations League play began again with a home-and-away quarterfinal series against Trinidad and Tobago, Pepi’s 82nd minute goal in the home leg on Nov. 16 proved to be the match-winner in what became a 3-0 victory. The U.S. would ultimately advance to the tournament’s semifinal on a 4-2 aggregate.
  • Pepi’s goalscoring ways earned him an $11 million transfer from FC Augsburg to Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven in July. Prior to the move, Pepi had been playing on loan in the Eredivisie at FC Groningen. He played 21 matches for Groningen over the back half of its 2022/23 campaign, scoring six goals and adding an assist. He ended the season as the team’s leading scorer with 12 goals.
  • So far at PSV, Pepi has continued to be a regular contributor, especially late in games. Through 21 appearances across all competitions, Pepi has six goals and two assists, with all six of his goals coming in the 78th minute or later and three of them in the 90th minute or beyond.
  • Just recently, the young forward scored one of the signature goals of his young career. On Nov. 29, PSV found themselves down 2-0 on the road at Sevilla FC in UEFA Champions League Group B play. A second half goal from Ismael Saibari and an own goal from Nemanja Gudelj brought them level, then two minutes into second half stoppage time, Pepi arrived with a towering headed finish to complete the comeback and help them advance to the knockout round.
  • This is Pepi’s first nomination for U.S. Soccer Male Player of the Year. He previously won the U.S. Soccer Young Male Player of the Year in 2021.