Major League Soccer

Landon Donovan full of praise for 'absolutely lethal' Ricardo Pepi

Chris Smith
Ricardo Pepi is second only to Christian Pulisic among USMNT goalscorers in World Cup qualifying.
Ricardo Pepi is second only to Christian Pulisic among USMNT goalscorers in World Cup qualifying. / Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images

USMNT record goalscorer Landon Donovan has heaped praise upon "absolutely lethal" teenage striker Ricardo Pepi.

Just 18 years old, Pepi has enjoyed a meteoric rise this season, scoring 12 MLS goals so far to stay just two behind Golden Boot leader Raul Ruidiaz.

His form for FC Dallas was enough to earn him a first-ever USMNT call-up from Gregg Berhalter, and in the pressure cooker of World Cup qualifying, Pepi delivered - netting a goal and two assists on his debut to help the United States to a 4-1 comeback win over Honduras. Christian Pulisic is the only younger US debutant to score in World Cup qualifying.

Speaking on the Lebatard and Friends Podcast, Donovan praised Pepi's seemingly laser-guided finishing ability, but also pointed out the immense work ethic the teenager brings to the side.

"What I thought was interesting was that, as the game wore on, he was somewhat effective early on, but I was anticipating him coming off the field at some point," Donovan said. "I was just waiting for the sub numbers to come up and see his number.

"It's a credit to his fitness that he was able to, in his first qualifier, stay on the field and keep going. And then a credit to Gregg (Berhalter) just keeping him on because he sees what everyone at FC Dallas sees, which is in a second, that guy can change the game.

"He's competitive. Forget about the goalscoring. He's competitive. He works hard. He really grinds when he plays. And then when he gets a chance in the box, he's absolutely lethal.

"The goal was fantastic. When I saw the view from behind, it's not an easy finish at all. And I don't want to be hyperbolic here or too dramatic, but that's as big a goal for that team as they've scored in a long time."

Pepi was thrust straight back into the FC Dallas starting XI at the weekend, just days after his outing against Honduras, and scored again to earn his side a point against the San Jose Earthquakes.

"Without overdoing it, that kid's hungry," Dallas manager Luchi Gonzalez said in his post-match press conference when asked about his decision to start Pepi. "He's telling me, 'let's go'. He's telling me with urgency [that] we need to win, so that tells me everything about him."

Despite Pepi's form, Dallas remain 11th in the Western Conference, four points adrift of the final playoff spot. Gonzalez's side face three consecutive away games, going to NYCFC next before a Texas derby with Houston Dynamo and a trip to Vancouver Whitecaps.