There is no doubt that FC Dallas wunderkind Ricardo Pepi is the real deal. The 18-year-old striker has scored 13 goals in 27 Major League Soccer games this season. An impressive statistic for a teenager. A stat that gets even more impressive when one considers that the forward has scored every 147 minutes this season.
To put that in perspective. Only five players in MLS have been more successful this season. In just one season, Pepi has become very much the face of a league that is no longer just a retirement home for older players that no longer can no longer cut it in one of Europe’s major leagues.
In fact, there is now no doubt that Pepi will become the next wunderkind to move from MLS to one of Europe’s top five leagues, emulating the success of Tyler Adams and Alphonso Davies, who made the direct jump to the Bundesliga. Pepi could even follow Davies’ path and head to Bayern Munich.
Pepi has undergone a training stint at the Rekordmeister thanks to a cooperation agreement between Bayern Munich and Dallas. The staff at the Bayern Campus were intrigued with what they saw. Pepi’s movement was described as fluid, straightforward and efficient. A player that could perhaps one day replace Polish striker Robert Lewandowski.
Lewandowski might become the main reason for Bayern to abstain from a transfer. The Polish striker might be 33 but has not shown any sign of slowing down, scoring 145 goals over the last three seasons. As a result, Bayern has been talking to German national team striker Karim Adeyemi. Adeyemi, for now, could replace Kingsley Coman and then grow into the center-forward role. Pepi, on the other hand, is a pure center-forward; having him play on another position is, therefore, not an ideal development path.
Hence, even though Bayern is interested and could still land the 18-year-old, the path seems to be headed to another Bundesliga side. VfL Wolfsburg, a club increasingly pushing for presence in North America, has been heavily linked.
“We know the player,” Wolfsburg sporting director Marcel Schäfer said in a report published by Transfermarkt. Transfermarkt has been one of several outlets reporting that the Autostädter are in negotiations to sign Pepi from Dallas. A transfer, however, would not come cheap, with Dallas looking for a fee that would equalize the MLS transfer record for a homegrown player set by Davies when he joined Bayern Munich.
Wolfsburg, sponsored by Volkswagen, is, however, unlikely to be turned off by the $10 million-plus that Dallas will ask. Signing Pepi would be an investment not just in the future but also open doors to the lucrative US market. Plus, Wolfsburg will eventually need to find a replacement for Wout Weghorst, who is increasingly being linked with a move away from the club.
Signing Pepi as a Weghorst replacement would, therefore, make sense, especially as the other strikers in the squad are a somewhat different profile. Furthermore, the anticipation is that the 18-year-old will need some time to adapt to German football—many forget that Davies needed half a season until he finally made his mark at Bayern and that Adams, despite a fantastic start, had some injury concerns early on.
Furthermore, Pepi will have to confirm that he can keep his goalscoring prowess alive. This season he has outperformed his xG significantly. The striker has an xG of 7.75 this season, which is a big gap to his 13 goals. Ranked 12th in MLS with shots on target (50.82%), Pepi has been very efficient this season but will have to learn to translate those numbers to a top-five league.
Either way, a transfer now seems likely with 90min reporting on Monday that the forward has asked for a winter transfer away from Dallas. Die Autostädter are in the driver’s seat, but there is intense competition for America’s latest wunderkind in Bayern and perhaps Ajax.
Manuel Veth is the editor-in-chief of the Futbolgrad Network and the Area Manager USA at Transfermarkt. He has also been published in the Guardian, Newsweek, Howler, Pro Soccer USA, and several other outlets. Follow him on Twitter: @ManuelVeth