Now that FC Dallas’ playoff hunt is mathematically and irrefutably over, the biggest looming question in Frisco is the future of one Ricardo Pepi.
Let’s start with the hard truth - Pepi is under contract through 2026. Considering how quickly things have unfolded for him and for FC Dallas, getting Pepi to sign a big contract may be the smartest business move for the team in recent years. They did it at the right time, just as Pepi’s rise was unfolding.
However, in recent weeks, rumors abound that Pepi is ready to take the next step in his career abroad. Sources are now reporting that Pepi has agreed to personal terms with Wolfsburg, although other suitors are putting out feelers. Regardless of these agreements that Pepi makes, a suitable transfer must be negotiated with FC Dallas before Pepi can officially leave.
I can confirm that Ricardo Pepi has requested a transfer from FC Dallas and that he has agreed to personal terms with Wolfsburg. First reported by @CJSmith91.— Roger Gonzalez (@RGonzalezCBS) October 18, 2021
Far from done. So many clubs interested and involved.
Meanwhile, FCD president Dan Hunt and others have expressed their desire for Ricardo to linger for at least another year before the World Cup 2022. It makes sense. Pepi could feature as the No. 1 striker, staying fit and continue to grow ahead of major minutes in a World Cup which will only increase his price tag and his exposure. There is no guarantee that a move abroad would lend itself the same kind of action on the field.
But can FC Dallas keep him? And with the way the roster has been constructed and the team has played, does Pepi really want to stick around with a franchise that just fired its head coach and continues to struggle?
I’ve been thinking about this conundrum for FC Dallas and what some options might look like to convince Pepi to give the team another year or two. What would it take to encourage Ricardo that it is in his best interests to stay in Frisco? What could Dan Hunt do that would keep the young star grounded on Texas soil?
Designated Player Contract
The first option is to throw the book, well, checkbook at Pepi. Make him the first homegrown Designated Player in Major League Soccer history. Yeah, you just doubled the kid’s salary, but find out what Wolfsburg was offering him and offer him 10% more than that. Hunt and company would need to get rid of some dead weight on the roster to make this work, but that also might be a catalyst for change for a roster that has lots of issues.
A DP contract can still include an appropriate transfer fee clause so Pepi can rest assured a pathway to Europe exists.
Get the Right Coach
An internal hire is not going to get the job done in this scenario for FC Dallas. I don’t think a diamond in the rough manager would be ideal either. Hunt must find a candidate who has a great track record of developing talent and shepherding young, dynamic players like Pepi to bigger and better things. Now is the time to swing for the fences, even if it means giving up control.
That might be the hardest lesson. A head coach with experience at surviving and thriving in tough environments is not going to want to settle for MLS cast-offs. They will want to build a team around their system and get skilled players to help them do it.
Rebuild the Roster
One convincing argument to encourage Pepi to stay in Frisco would be the addition of some fun, talented players around him. Right now, the roster has some possibilities - Jesus Ferreira, Szabolsc Schon, Jader Obrian, and Paxton Paxton to name a few. There is a reason that Pepi came alive with this young, exciting attacking core around him.
But imagine this team going out and spending big on a skilled playmaker to feed the ball to Pepi. Imagine a world-class right back or true midfield destroyer to deliver more counter-attacking opportunities. I think Pepi would stay another season if he knew he would have a chance to play with some quality talent to help push his game to another level before he moves to Europe.
This would mean getting rid of some foreign and domestic players on this roster who have simply struggled. Andres Ricaurte and Freddy Vargas start the list. Can you sell Bryan Acosta for a decent fee? Can you find someone to take Franco Jara off of your hands?
Really, are you open to moving a few more homegrowns to make space for quality veterans to help ensure this team experiences fewer dips in 2022? Do you really envision Ema Twumasi as the starter at right back going into 2022?
Build Around Pepi
Ultimately, you make a promise to build around Pepi. You make a promise to play exciting football. You make a promise to bring in the best training staff and medical staff money can buy. You make a commitment to compete for championships and have Pepi in the best position come World Cup time.
Maybe. Maybe then Pepi sticks around. (And maybe a bunch of other exciting players starts knocking on your door to come to play in Frisco.)
But will it happen?
I doubt it. Such a marshaling of resources and a change of direction would be surprising. More than likely, Dallas will hope to come away with a sizable transfer fee in the region of $15 million and call it a day. I don’t blame them in a sense - it’s the safer route to go. You can wish Pepi the best and market off of his move to Europe without making any major changes at home. Life goes on, along with lackluster attendance, and often under-achieving product on the field, and disgruntled fans.
But maybe for a moment, we can dream of the possibilities. FC Dallas has a real chance to do something special with this amazing player. Can they do it? Can they convince him to stay... or will he go?