US men’s national team head coach Gregg Berhalter spoke candidly about the team’s experience during the September World Cup qualifiers and praised newcomer Ricardo Pepi for his astonishing debut, admitting Honduras is “a notoriously difficult place to play”.
FC Dallas forward Ricardo Pepi made his senior team debut in the 4-1 victory against Honduras on September 8 after committing to the USMNT over the Mexican national team days prior. He scored a goal and added an assist to inspire a comeback from the American side.
Berhalter revealed he was impressed with Pepi for his efforts as the South American country is a tough opponent.
"I think it's incredible," Berhalter said of the teenager's performance. "Think about 18 years old, makes his debut in Honduras, a notoriously difficult place to play, ends up having a goal and assist in playing 90 minutes. I mean, that was incredible.”
Pepi confirmed that Berhalter mentioned the possibility of debuting against Honduras on the plane to allow the player to mentality prepare himself.
“It’s just to show a player you believe in him is the most important thing," Berhalter reflected. "Anything’s possible; if you’re in camp, you can play, you can start. You know, you're not in camp to be a placeholder. And it's just giving the guys the confidence that yeah, you're here to contribute.
"For Pepi, and for a lot of guys, you're playing not because I like you, you know you're playing because you're good enough and you can do it.”
The USMNT managed to turn around their World Cup qualifiers campaign with the victory against Honduras, previously facing an early exit. During the September window the American side managed two draws and one win.
Berhalter explained he made the tactical switch to a 4-3-3 for the last match in hopes of getting a better result and sending a different message.
"You have a plan for what type of message you want to deliver, but to me, the first thing is, the first thing I said was it's about competing. We’re gonna have to raise our level of competing in this game to get back into it. Changing the formation, I thought, was going to give them the confidence that ok, we're gonna be able to get this done here, and then it’s about I think also remaining positive and sticking by them.”
The USMNT face Panama, Costa Rica and Jamaica in the next round of qualifiers.