Ricardo Pepi has revealed he hung up on Gregg Berhalter when the U.S. men's national team head coach rang to reveal he had not been named in the World Cup squad. Augsburg striker Pepi, currently on loan with Dutch side Groningen, had established himself as a key figure in the USMNT setup in 2021 but his struggles at club level after moving to Germany saw him slip down Berhalter's depth chart. Ultimately Haji Wright, Josh Sargent and Jordan Morris were all selected over the 19-year-old, who had rejected the chance to play for Mexico when he declared for the US.
"I remember exactly the moment," Pepi told the Kon Veel Minder podcast. "I hopped on a phone call with [the] national team coach, he said I wasn't on the roster so then I just hung up the phone on him."
Asked whether he had asked for an explanation over why he was not in the 26-man group, the youngster added: "No, not really to be honest. I was in shock, it took me five minutes to get it in my mind. I just couldn't believe it ... I called my agent immediately and then I called my dad. They thought I was playing with them. It was something that I was shocked about to be honest."
Berhalter has still offered no explanation for why Pepi did not make the roster, the striker says "that was something I didn't really want to know. I didn't want to give myself any excuses. That was the most important reason why I didn't ask. My mentality was 'I didn't make it, it's time to get to work.'"
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Pepi struggled greatly after departing FC Dallas for Germany in a $20 million move in January of last year, failing to score in his 16 appearances for Augsburg. He has recovered his best form since moving to the Eredivisie, where he has seven goals in 10 games, and has already been linked with a move to the Premier League in the summer. For now, he is using his disappointment over the World Cup as fuel to fire him to further goals.
"I put myself in the best position to give myself an opportunity," said Pepi. "Obviously I wasn't [on] the roster, it made me more hungry than I was and makes me want to prove myself right even more. It's really important for me. I use every experience as a learning lesson, as motivation."
It remains to be seen what Pepi's role is moving forward and if he will get a call for the Nations League matches in March. Berhalter is currently out of contract while also dealing with the fallout from the revelation of a "physical" altercation that took place in 1991 with his girlfriend and now-wife Rosalind. That news came out in response to an alleged blackmail attempt made during the World Cup in Qatar. It has been revealed that those who brought the altercation to the federation were Danielle Reyna and Claudio Reyna, the parents of USMNT star Giovanni Reyna, who deny blackmail attempts.
Asssistant Anthony Hudson will coach the U.S. during the January camp. U.S. Soccer sporting director Earnie Stewart said on Wednesday that Berhalter remains in consideration to continue coaching the team.