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Ricardo Pepi Begins the 2019 USL One Season with a Hat Trick

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It got nervy at the end, but North Texas SC defeated Chattanooga Red Wolves SC 3-2 with Ricardo Pepi the hero in their first ever league match.

North Texas SC/Dylan Nadwodny

North Texas SC’s first ever USL League One match was a huge success. NTSC garnered lots of national attention in the soccer community for its first match because of a hat-trick from a certain 16-year-old named Ricardo Pepi.

Lineup

NTSC: Maurer, Bonilla (Almaguer 57’), Evans, Montgomery, Reynolds, Jatta, Servania, Arturo Rodriguez (Bicou 68’), Sealy (Damus 81’), Pepi, Romero

NTSC lined up in a 4-3-3. In the middle of the field, Jatta and Servania seemed to interchange and share duties staying back and pushing up the field. NTSC was shorthanded and had only five substitutes available.

The Match

NTSC found a breakthrough in just the 13th minute. Oscar Romero played a ball over the top that looked a little too far ahead of Ricardo Pepi, but there was a miscommunication between the defender and goalkeeper that allowed Pepi to tap the ball first time between the legs of the Chattanooga keeper, Alex Mangels.

NTSC had another great chance right after the goal. Dante Sealy found space in the middle of the field and charged forward. After dribbling around one defender, Sealy played the ball on the ground to Pepi, who touched it out wide to Bryan Reynolds in space. Reynolds had some nice interplay with Oscar Romero, who crossed the ball in to Pepi. Pepi launched a strike right at Mangels, who parried the ball to Reynolds, who kicked the ball over the open goal.

In the 25th minute, NTSC executed a trick corner kick play. Romero tapped the ball and acted like the ball was not in play. He went into the box while Dante Sealy jogged over to the corner flag, acting like he was going to take the corner kick. The ball was already in play, however, and Sealy dribbled the ball from the corner, taking it around a defender and into the box, and taking a good shot that forced a save from the keeper.

Sealy had another good opportunity in the 38th minute. He received the ball from a bad pass by Chattanooga. He was challenged from behind and fell in the box. The referee said play on, but it looked like it should have been a penalty.

Pepi nearly scored a minute later. Alfusainey Jatta slipped a great pass to Pepi, who was in on goal, but his shot from a difficult angle was deflected out of play by Mangles for an NTSC corner kick.

Early in the second half, Kevin Bonilla suffered an injury and subbed out for Imanol Almaguer. Almaguer was extremely active once he came on. Just a few minutes later, in the 61st minute, Almaguer sped up the field and unleashed a powerful shot. The shot was saved, but the rebound fell to the feet of the wide open Reynolds, who missed his second good opportunity.

In the 62nd minute, NTSC broke through for a second time. Jatta played the ball to Romero, who was in tons of space on the right side of the box. Romero played a cross to Pepi, who tapped home an easy second goal.

Chattanooga had a good chance to cut NTSC’s lead in the 70th minute. Eamon Zayed had an open header directly in front of goal that he redirected wide.

Pepi completed his hat trick in the 78th minute by scoring what would surprisingly turn out to be the game-winning goal. Center back Brecc Evans launched a long ball up the field, which again, like the first goal, looked too far for Pepi. Also like the first goal, there was a miscommunication between the defender and goalkeeper. A misplayed header back to the keeper fell right to Pepi, who chipped the ball over the onrushing goalkeeper and scored into the empty net.

In the 85th minute, Chattanooga broke NTSC’s shutout. Goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer came out of his box and awkwardly cleared the ball with his knee. It fell to Chattanooga player Steven Beattie, whose shot scored past the retreating Maurer.

Then again in the 92nd minute, Chattanooga made it nervy when former OKC Energy player Richard Dixon bounced a header into the net to make the score 3-2, which is how the match ended.

Notes

  • Pepi’s hat trick of course is extremely impressive, but that was not the only thing to be impressed by in this match from him. Pepi had really impressive movement during the game that helped him get many chances to score. He also helped his teammates and had several really good flicks and touches.
  • Brandon Servania periodically would pull off some really nice passes that started pushes up the field for NTSC.
  • North Texas SC heavily utilized the team’s fullbacks in the attack. Bryan Reynolds in particular was involved in a lot of attacking play. He was good at creating, but missed two opportunities to score that he really should have put away. When Almaguer subbed in for Bonilla, Almaguer played great when he pushed up the field. He also, though, probably should have been able to clear the cross which Richard Dixon scored at the match’s conclusion.
  • Dante Sealy showed a lot of talent. Sealy has got speed and is aggressive on the dribble. He created tons of opportunities, but he would also periodically make poor decisions on his passes which gave the ball away.
  • Jimmy Maurer did not have a good showing. While he had a couple of good saves throughout the match, he fell apart at the end when Chattanooga scored twice.

This 3-2 win was a great way to start the season for North Texas SC. They have a week off next week, and then will be back in action on Saturday, April 13, against Forward Madison FC again at Toyota Stadium. It will be a late game, starting at 9:20 pm following the FC Dallas home match against the Portland Timbers.