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What Ricardo Pepi can (and should) learn from Kobra

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The big Czech is a master of one particular type of goal, and Pepi should be taking notes.

MLS: Montreal Impact at FC Dallas Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

A youth coach on Twitter recently offered the following player development maxim with regard to goal-scorers:

Beware of a youth player that can only score one way. The player that scores all their goals only on breakaways at 12-years-old won’t score many at 15-years-old. Develop players that can score multiple ways in different scenarios.

That interested me because (1) it’s a simple, useful screen to pass young strikers through as an indicator of potential, and (2) a lot of people think the addition of Franco Jara could be transformative for FC Dallas’ striker prospect Ricardo Pepi. Maybe the expected growth of Pepi comes in the form of him adding new ways of scoring goals to his game?

In thinking about it more, though, there’s another striker with the first team from whom Pepi could get the same tutelage: Zdeněk Ondrášek, aka The Kobra. Despite riding the bench for most of last season, Kobra has been highly productive on a per-minute basis for FC Dallas compared to MLS peers. Take a look at the two videos below. The first is every non-penalty goal I could find video of from Pepi since late 2018, and the second is every goal I could find from Kobra since he joined FCD. See if you can detect the difference in how the two score goals.

There were two of Pepi’s goals I couldn’t find a way to include in the comp using my video editing software: in pre-season against LAFC and a slalom-ish kind of goal against the eventual champion Brazil U-17s before the World Cup last Fall. I’d suggest watching those after finishing the video.

The one goal I couldn’t mix in for Kobra was in pre-season against Austin Bold.

If you need a hint, take a look at the two shot charts below, which graphically describe all the goals above.

Kobra’s film is peppered with goals where he makes a sharp movement in the box to get onto the end of a whipped cross in a dangerous spot and finishes deftly. I’m talking about the goal against England, both against Houston, the second vs SKC, against Cincy, against Montreal in 2020. Some you could point to poor marking from defenders, but, similar to Chris Wondolowski in San Jose, after ten or so of these goals you should start to wonder if it’s the quality of the attacker making the chance instead. These are the high-quality chances that most offenses strive to generate.

Two-third of Kobra’s goals were scored in this way. Pepi scored none (maybe one if you count the tap in against Chattanooga). While Pepi can score in lots of different ways, this is not a situation of him scoring in enough other ways that these “Kobra Goals” just take up a smaller portion of his total – Pepi isn’t making these chances at the same rate Kobra does. You might argue that Pepi’s holding up his end of the bargain and that his teammates aren’t putting in good enough service, but I argue in return that smart, aggressive movement in the box prompts smart, aggressive service. Kobra is getting the crosses he is precisely because his movement is so good.

There are more pieces to good attacking play than just getting into good spots to score goals, but I don’t think it’s out of line to say that doing so is still the essential part of the job. For Pepi to get better, then, he must keep adding new weapons to his arsenal to hurt defenses. It’s not just the Liga MX legend that can help him do so. Pepi should learn the most devastating part of Kobra’s game too.