HENDERSON, Nev. — U.S. men’s national team striker Ricardo Pepi said on Saturday he is ready to move forward with newly reappointed U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter and move past the coach’s decision to not take him to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Asked specifically about Berhalter’s reappointment, Pepi said: “I think it’s great. It’s good for the team. It’s great for me, and like I said, anything that happened, it’s in the past.”
Pepi was one of several U.S. players snubbed from the World Cup, a group that included Manchester City goalkeeper Zack Steffen. After Berhalter’s rehiring became official on Friday, Berhalter said that he had not spoken with Pepi or Steffen since the World Cup but would do so in the coming months. In the meantime, Berhalter said, the players competing in Sunday’s Concacaf Nations League final against Canada should focus on that.
“Now we have good new opportunities and the new opportunity is playing a final tomorrow,” Pepi continued. “So I think that’s what we’ve got to focus on.”
At Berhalter’s unveiling on Friday, the U.S. manager said there were “a number of individuals that you want to speak with.” While most of the attention in that regard was related to Gio Reyna, the player at the center of a public spat and investigation into Berhalter’s past, both Pepi and Steffen are among those players who will need to rebuild their respective relationships with the U.S. manager.
Steffen told ESPN earlier this year about Berhalter: “He and I have a long history, and I thought it was a little bit different than it was. It’s something I learned, as well, and it was a tough pill to swallow.”
“Ideally, what you have is alignment with everybody,” Berhalter said Friday, “and all we’re doing is trying to be great together, and it needs the relationships to be good. It needs the players to be focused on what we’re doing, and there’ll certainly be time for that in these upcoming months.”
Coming off his goal-scoring exploits in Thursday’s 3-0 semifinal triumph against Mexico in the Concacaf Nations League, Pepi will look to show well again in Sunday’s final against Canada. The Reds have been a rising force in Concacaf in recent years and will be aiming to win their first trophy since the 2000 Gold Cup. Canada also took four points off the U.S. during World Cup qualification, when it finished top of the standings.
As the U.S. looks to win its second straight Nations League, Pepi is wary of the threat Canada poses.
“I feel like we’re not underestimating Canada at all,” he said. “We know we want to win the tournament. We want to win the trophy. We want to lift this. So I think it’s important that we go with the same intensity and the same hunger that we went in with Mexico.”
Berhalter is not set to take over the U.S. team again until after the Concacaf Gold Cup finishes in July, and interim coach B.J. Callaghan will remain in charge until then.