Ricardo Pepi is a 16-year-old soccer prodigy from the United States. He’s already been scouted by some of Europe’s best clubs, and he has one goal in mind: to play for Manchester City.
The american soccer is a story about the unstoppable dreams of USMNT prodigy Ricardo Pepi.
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El Paso County, like the rest of the towns along the north side of the Texas-Mexico border, has a much greater poverty rate than the rest of the nation. It has a per capita income that is more than $12,400 less than the national average. It has a lower educational attainment rate. It has more than double the national proportion of people under 65 who are uninsured.
It’s why it’s easy to feel a sense of urgency when you’re from the El Paso-Juárez borderland, like I am. The fact that so few things grow here is unsettling. The desolate surroundings don’t help matters. It’s easy to get lost in West Texas and Northern Mexico’s vast open expanses.
Living here means feeling the questions that are as ubiquitous as the mountains that surround the area and as relentless as the winds that race down from them. That wind howls on the worst of days. It makes the desert floor dance till the sand covers the sun and the sky becomes a reddish-brown color.
That wind has the potential to pull roofs off buildings and rip doors off hinges. It may cause you to choke and become blind, and it can even cause death. It’s on days like this that I feel like we should all flee the desert. Get away from this world divided into two nations. It’s as if the wind conveys the existential concerns that people here struggle with on those days when it sounds like some unseen hand is constantly flinging dirt against closed doors and windows.
Will being surrounded by my family and all I know be enough to make me happy if I stay?
Will the benefits I expect to acquire outweigh the pain of losing out on what I’m going to lose if I leave?
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The USMNT revealed their World Cup qualifying squad in late August, a day after Ricardo scored the game-winning penalty for the MLS All-Stars against the Liga MX All-Stars. Ricardo had been summoned and had agreed. Ricardo said while announcing his decision that despite his choice of the United States, he was proud of his Mexican American heritage, which “will never be taken away from me, no matter which national team I play for.”
Ruiz describes Ricardo’s choice as “devastating.” El Matador’s USMNT supporters contacted Ruiz to insult him as soon as the news broke. It didn’t matter that they were startled as well.
Miguel Villalpando recalls, “I was in shock.” Ricardo initially caught Villalpando’s attention while playing in the FC Dallas Academy. Villalpando was born and reared in Oak Cliff, a mainly Latino area in Dallas. Because of their similarities, Villalpando claims he began paying attention to him right once. “He’s very much a Chicano,” he adds, referring to a person of Mexican ancestry who was born in the United States.
“His parents are from Mexico, and he was born here. You have to be proud of that, particularly because he is with FC Dallas and I am a United States supporter.”
It almost sounds like the origin tale of a comic book villain when Villalpando describes how he, a Mexican-American, became a fan of the USMNT. He was about 11 years old, and the US was set to play Mexico. “‘A quién le vas?’ my father inquired. ‘Do you want to go to the United States or Mexico?’” Which team, the United States or Mexico, did he want to win?
But before he could respond, his father, who is from Irapuato, Guanajuato, spoke for him. “Ah, Chicanito, you must leave for the United States.”
Villalpando says that was his father’s way of being fun as he tells the tale and sprinkles Spanish phrases in every few lines of discussion. However, not every game is enjoyable.
Villalpando claims that he was attempting to offend him. “But I saw it as a sign that I should accept it. Because of what my father did to me, I’ve always been a supporter of the United States.”
Friends and relatives jokingly refer to him as a traitor. They advise him to keep in mind where he and his parents come from. They also advise him to expect to lose before every game between the United States and Mexico. “”I’ve had that happen to me since I was a young child,” Villalpando adds. It’s nothing to me.”
The United States defeated Mexico in the finals of two separate competitions during this long, hot summer.
That, according to Ruiz, caused him pain. He claims that if Ricardo ever scores against Mexico, it will be devastating.
That, according to Villalpando, was a fantastic experience. He claims to be on the verge of purchasing Ricardo’s USMNT shirt.
Ricardo’s family relocated from El Paso to Dallas a year after he left home. His mother informed his father, ‘I can’t be without him.’ ESPN’s Brent Humphreys
CHOOSING TO PLAY FOR THE UNITED STATES BETWEEN PHOTOSHOOT LOCATIONS, Ricardo says it was one of the most difficult choices of his life. “I spoke to my folks about it,” he says as he stands a few steps from the pitch, which is nothing like the ones he grew up on in El Paso. Those were full of thorny pebbles and plants that would cling to his shoes, laces, and socks.
“The national team called me up,” Ricardo explains. “When I asked my father for his opinion, he didn’t say much. He said that he would support me no matter where I choose to play.”
The remainder of the Pepi family, both direct and extended, has backed Ricardo’s choice, even though some have questioned it. Ricardo’s El Paso pals have also been encouraging. They’ve even purchased USMNT jerseys with “Pepi” embroidered on the back.
Despite this, Ricardo admits that he is aware that many people, including the media, believe he should have picked Mexico. He believes he made the correct decision since it was a better opportunity.
There’s no uncertainty in his voice whenever he speaks about that choice — he’s been asked the same question in each of his growing number of interviews. He’s peaceful and at ease, exactly like he is before every game when he meditates in solitude. He adds, “This all has a lot to do with the mind.” “If you’re ready for it, if you’re expecting it, it’ll arrive.”
But just because he’s happy with his choice doesn’t mean he can ignore what’s going to happen. Against November 12, the US takes on Mexico, and there isn’t a Zen with enough energy for Ricardo to believe it’s just another game. When he hears the Mexican national song, he doesn’t feel anything and doesn’t sing along. Members of El Tri and their supporters have been known to weep, so it’s possible.
That game, according to Ricardo, will be different. He is well aware that two nations will be watching, and the distinction between who shouts for whom is not always obvious. He understands that he has a chance to become the USMNT’s first Mexican American superstar, and that there will always be some who believe he made the wrong decision.
He is aware that it was once his father’s ambition to have a son play for El Tri. Ricardo, on the other hand, now knows he has his father’s complete backing.
“With all due respect,” Daniel adds, “I’m still Mexican, and I continue to love my country, but right now, I’m wearing a United States shirt.”
At FC Dallas, Ricardo has become a fan favorite. Prior to the USMNT’s next round of qualifications, the club launched a Twitter campaign to’make Pepi the permanent starter.’ USA TODAY Sports/Kevin Jairaj
I DON’T KNOW WHEN I REALIZED that even if I wasn’t physically present, I’d never be able to avoid living in a borderland. I’d constantly sense a barrier between myself and wherever I lived if I wasn’t near this border between the United States and Mexico. That in the midst of the river that separates and connects El Paso and Juárez, I’d have the strongest feeling of belonging. That is the peculiarity of this location. It’s a lot of things, some of which are incompatible.
It may seem like the most gorgeous location in the planet at times. At times, it seems as if life in the midst of the desert was destined to end in a desert escape. A little kid playing soccer in Europe’s top leagues, a former construction worker penning this: the same raw beauty may inspire the wildest of ambitions. It is, however, the kind of environment that may suffocate you.
So you depart because you have no other option. However, there are instances when fleeing generates a feeling of shame.
Leaving may irreparably harm connections that were previously so strong you’d think they could endure any distance. When you leave, you realize that the farther removed you are from home, the less likely you are to ever feel at ease.
“I aim to go over there whenever I have a chance,” Ricardo says of the borderland. He misses the culture, the friendliness and humility of the people, and the fact that Spanish is the most often spoken language on both banks of the Rio Grande. He misses his loved ones. Because the season is so lengthy, it’s more difficult to return. When he returns, he says he enjoys eating barbacoa in Juárez at a restaurant called El Chivo Brincon on Saturday mornings.
Ricardo inquires, “Did you ever dine there?”
He replies with an astonished “nooooo” that lasts at least two seconds when I tell him I’ve never gone. I tell him that the restaurant where we used to dine was a basic cart next to a petrol station that, if it had a name, was forgotten about.
“Everyone dubbed it ‘el güey de la gasolinera,’” says one participant. I inform him. At the petrol station, the f—-ing man.
We chuckle for no apparent reason, and the others around us are baffled.
You’ll never understand how comfortable it is to meet an El Pasoan or a Juárense away from this area unless you’re from here. It’s hard to put into words, but it’s in the way they speak, particularly when the discussion shifts to Spanish. It can be found in the music they listen to and the food they consume. It’s etched in the collective memory of this location.
It’s all about how people engage with one other. Because, if nothing else, you won’t have to justify your origins for once. There’s no need to go into detail about how much you miss it. Or the decision to remain or go.
There’s no need to go into detail about how the border wall never appears as startling when you leave and return.
Or that, since it seems to have always been there, that goddamned wall sometimes simply blends in with the desert.
When asked to explain his feelings after learning that Ricardo will start the World Cup qualifier against Honduras, DANIEL replies, “IT’S IMPOSSIBLE.”
The Pepi family had come to Nashville for the game versus Canada the night before. Daniel estimated that his son would receive 10 to 15 minutes in Tennessee after the USMNT played a 0-0 draw in El Salvador, a game in which Ricardo did not participate.
“That was our hope when we went there,” Daniel recalls. “Unfortunately, he was unable to participate. And, given that the United States had just two points in two games, I assumed he wouldn’t play much, if at all, against Honduras.”
The USMNT appeared adrift after two games in qualification for the 2022 World Cup. The squad was anticipated to win both games, but they only managed to tie. Fans were reminded of the team’s inability to qualify for the 2018 World Cup by those outcomes.
That is why the match versus Honduras was so important. And why Daniel assumed Ricardo wouldn’t participate since he had little experience. When you look at it from the other side, it’s obvious that whatever the USMNT did wasn’t working. As a result, on the aircraft to Honduras, Gregg Berhalter informed Ricardo that he would be starting.
When Daniel received the news, he was driving around Waco, Texas, where he works Monday through Friday.
Daniel had pulled over to the side of the road and asked Ricardo, “Are you playing with me?”
Ricardo said, “No.”
Daniel was concerned that Ricardo would be removed at halfway, with the USMNT down 1-0 and ideas that everything was falling apart for them — maybe even thoughts that they’d picked the wrong nation. It wasn’t because he was doing poorly; rather, it was because it was his first start.
“”I watch him beginning the second half and how he’s playing,” Daniel adds. ‘A goal is coming, a goal is coming, a goal is coming,’ I assure my wife. Then it happens.”
Ricardo’s header in the 75th minute broke the tie, 2-1. And while he ran, shouted, and leapt in joy with his teammates — the second youngest player to play for the United States in a World Cup qualifier after teammate Christian Pulisic — his family did the same at home. All are reveling in the thrill of “a game-changing goal,” as Ricardo describes it. A goal that lifted the USMNT from the fear, uncertainty, and uneasiness that had engulfed them for at least one game.
Ricardo’s family shouted and leaped at home as he celebrated his first goal for the USMNT. ISI Photos/Getty Images/Brad Smith
“We didn’t have enough space in our hearts to hold all of this emotion,” Daniel explains. Annette, who was sitting next to him, leapt and shouted as well. She sobbed. Because she usually does it when Ricardo scores.
“My kid has always said that he intends to pursue a career in the field of medicine. He was going to be a part of a European club. And once he scores, I always, always, always cry tears of pleasure “Annette explains. Her voice starts to break as she speaks.
“I know this is his dream,” she says of her son, who scored a goal and added two assists in the USMNT’s 4-1 victory against Honduras.
“That game was unique,” says the adolescent from the borderlands of two nations.
Ricardo just acquired this red Camaro, which is the first vehicle he’s ever owned. ESPN’s Brent Humphreys
RICARDO SITS IN FRONT OF HIS CAMARO. It’s the day’s last photography site.
His vehicle, a symbol of American strength, is the color of a candy apple, red and gleaming. It was approximately a month ago when he received it. It’s the first vehicle he’s ever purchased on his own. While he parks it, he makes a point of avoiding touching the windows when shutting the door. He doesn’t want the tinted glass to get stained by his fingers.
The last few months have been “wild,” Ricardo adds. He claims that he is now more well known. Fans approach him and beg for autographs, and many of them, more than previously, say they’re from El Paso.
It’s easy to forget how young Ricardo is while watching him play against guys. That he graduated from high school somewhere in the midst of his life-changing season. That he continues to live with his parents. When he’s not scoring goals, he takes out the garbage, walks the dog, and washes the dishes every now and again.
Ricardo misses his family. He, on the other hand, has no regrets regarding his decisions. He says he knows how much his family has put their lives on the line. They left the familiarity and comfort of El Paso and Juárez for Dallas, a massive metropolis. They’ve been there for four years and still need GPS to navigate around.
They are currently residing at this location. How much longer can this go on? No one is aware. Ricardo’s name has been linked to some of the world’s most prestigious clubs in Germany, Italy, England, and the Netherlands, according to soccer rumors. Every day, the family, according to Daniel, thinks about it.
“However, we don’t conceive of it as a question of what will happen next,” Daniel explains. “We already know what’s going to happen next. He’s known what he wants to do for a long time. He has a clear idea of where he wants to go and how to get there.”
However, no matter where he or they as a family reside, they talk as though they, too, are aware that the El Paso-Juárez borderland cannot be avoided. That unfinished home in San Eli is still theirs. They speak about going as often as they can and crossing the bridge that links and separates their homes. It is said that there is never enough. Even though Ricardo decides to play for the United States rather than Mexico, they all seem to be more at ease in the middle ground between the two nations.
It’s almost as though they don’t want to forget where they came from. It’s why, despite playing for the United States, Ricardo and his miraculous right foot exclusively speak Spanish at home.
Roberto José Andrade Franco is a fronterizo from the borderlands between El Paso and Juárez. To read more of his writing, follow him on Twitter at @R AndradeFranco.