Pepi debuts at #1 in MLS 22 Under 22

FC Dallas’ Ricardo Pepi has been named top of the league’s annual 22 Under 22 list.

Three other FC Dallas players were named to make the North Texans the best-represented club and academy on the list. Jesus Ferreira (9), Paxton Pomykal (13), and Justin Che (16) rounded out the list.

A breakout year for the El Paso native has produced 13 goals and two assists for FC Dallas, a further three goals and an assist for the US Men’s National Team, and the winning penalty kick in the MLS All-Star Game.

It’s been a record-breaking year for Pepi, who became the youngest player in MLS history to score a hat-trick and the youngest USMNT player to score in back-to-back World Cup qualifiers. Talk of a $15m move to Europe could also add the league’s record transfer fee for a domestic player over the winter.

El Tren becomes only the second 18-year-old to top the list after Bayern Munich wingback Alphonso Davies in 2018. The win also moves FCD out of a three-way tie for most players leading the list. Seattle and Vancouver each had two players that had been named #1 in its 12-year existence, while Pepi joins Fabian Castillo and Brek Shea for FC Dallas.

Charles Boehm gave a fantastic look at how Ricardo Pepi went from one of many Mexican-American kids playing soccer in Texas to the most talked-about striker in the nation.

While Pepi and Che debuted on the 22 Under 22 list for 2021, Ferreria and Pomykal each placed in the previous two editions.

Jesus Ferreira’s year started with a run-out for Gregg Berhalter’s side that topped even Pepi’s, scoring two and assisting three goals in a 7-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago. A training ground injury left Ferreira out of the first two months of the season as he sought to better a disappointing 2020.

Without the burden of an ever-changing role, and an instinctual partnership with Pepi, Ferreira has six goals and six assists in 22 appearances that equals his 2019 ranking of ninth.

At 21, this is Paxton Pomykal’s final year in the list he’d previously ranked third in. Injuries had derailed the previous two seasons – most notably in 2020 when ranking fifth on the list despite being shut down for the season after only five games to rectify a lingering hip and groin issue.

While Pomykal has stated that he won’t be fully himself for another year, a career-best 26-appearances has given hope to those looking forward to seeing Pax regain the form that led to his maiden USMNT cap two years ago. Whether that is on the wing or in a more familiar central position depends on FC Dallas’ coaching search.

Few thought Justin Che would make an FC Dallas appearance after a winter loan in Germany ended with seven consecutive starts for Bayern Munich II. With no permanent deal done and a short US U-16 camp, Che returned and made his FC Dallas debut in June. An attacking-first full back, Che’s ability to get forward has caught many an admiring eye in MLS. Despite finding himself on the bench amid Marco Ferruzzi’s more veteran backline choices, interest in acquiring Che’s services has not died down.

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