United States international striker Ricardo Pepi said it will be a “special feeling” for him when the US takes on Mexico’s World Cup qualifier on Friday (stream LIVE on ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET).
Growing up in El Paso, Texas, the football rivalry between the United States and Mexico was always watching appointments in Pepi’s household.
“[It was] a special feeling to always have my family next to me for the game,” Pepi said on Tuesday. “It was taking root for Mexico then.”
After Pepi’s international dedication to the USMNT in August, it has become even more important and, of course, the family’s loyalties have changed.
The 18-year-old FC Dallas striker said he will have about 10 family members at Cincinnati’s TQL Stadium as the United States and Mexico renew their rivalry.
He said he can already anticipate what it will be like to hear the national anthems.
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“It will be a special feeling,” he said. “Because my family is in the stands with me in the US shirt — I feel like I’m definitely going to get goosebumps. It’s going to be that feeling where I’m going to be very motivated for the game, and I’m going to prepare for it. “
Pepi’s meteoric rise to the top of the United States national team’s player depth over the past two months was one of the key developments as the team embarked on World Cup qualifiers.
He has scored three goals in his first two appearances and is expected to receive most of the minutes this window as the United States hosts Mexico before traveling to Jamaica for a game on Tuesday.
Pepi has scored 13 goals in 31 league games this season, surpassing Dallas and 12th overall in Major League Soccer.
“He took advantage of his opportunities very well,” said American midfielder Kellyn Acosta. “He’s done well in MLS, but when he came here in the national team, he was great, he scored some goals as a force up front.
“I think he’s a guy who’s pretty level-headed despite everything that’s going on around him. He’s done a great job of being confident and being a silent hit man on the pitch.”
After six games, Mexico (14 points) is three points ahead of the United States (11) in the CONCACAF standings, with Canada in third place with 10. The top three teams at the end of 14 games automatically qualify for the World Cup 2022 in Qatar.
After beating Mexico twice in the summer – in the finals of both the Nations League and Gold Cup – Acosta added that the USMNT is confidently entering the game, especially given the expected favorable crowd in Cincinnati.
“We expect to come out aggressive and also be decisive,” Acosta said. “And I know they will try to match that intensity. Being in a pro-American environment is absolutely huge for us. And every home game is a game you have to win to get into that game. With that mentality.”