An 18-year-old Mexican-American soccer player may have saved his coach's job just weeks after choosing to play for the US

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An 18-year-old Mexican-American soccer player may have saved his coach's job just weeks after choosing to play for the US
Ricardo Pepi came up big for the USMNT. Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images
  • Ricardo Pepi scored and had 2 assists in the USMNT's 4-1 win over Honduras in World Cup qualifiers.
  • Taylor Twellman said the win may have saved manager Gregg Berhalter's job.
  • It was the 18-year-old Pepi's international debut after committing to the US over Mexico in August.

Ricardo Pepi helped save the US Men's National Team from a lot of pain on Wednesday.

The 18-year-old striker played a big role in his squad's 4-1 win over Honduras on Wednesday in a World Cup Qualifier in his international debut. Pepi scored one goal and assisted two others, becoming the second-youngest US player after Christian Pulisic to play in a World Cup qualifier.

The win moved the US ahead of Panama in goal differential and into third place in the qualifying standings. The top three teams in the CONCACAF group will make the World Cup, while the fourth will play in a play-off.

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The US trailed 1-0 in the first half and looked disjointed. Coming off a scoreless tie against Mexico and a 1-1 tie with Canada, a loss would have put the USMNT's bid for the World Cup in peril after failing to qualify in 2018.

To some, manager Gregg Berhalter's seat was growing warm after an uninspiring first half.

"Gregg Berhalter, one, saves his job," former men's team member and current ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman said on "SportsCenter" after the win over Honduras. "The way the first half went against Honduras - it was ugly, it was abysmal, he got the 11 wrong, he got the formation wrong. But good on him to raise his hand and say, 'I'm gonna fix this.'"

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Indeed, Berhalter made several key adjustments, including bringing in Brenden Aaronson, Sebastian Lletget, and Antonee Robinson, all of whom scored goals.

But it was Pepi who seemed to fuel the squad in the second half.

Pepi's goal was a header in the 75th minute to put the US up 2-1 and take command of the match.

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His assist on the equalizer was a soft back-tap to set up Robinson.

Pepi told reporters after the match that he only learned that he would be playing on the plane to Honduras.

"Gregg told me I was going to start on the plane on the way here," Pepi said, according to ESPN's Kyle Bonagura. "It was very special. I was prepared for the moment, and I took advantage of it."

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An 18-year-old Mexican-American soccer player may have saved his coach's job just weeks after choosing to play for the US
Ricardo Pepi. Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images
Pepi only committed to playing for the US in late August. Pepi is Mexican-American and explained that his family was given a home in the US.

"Everyone has supported me," Pepi told FC Dallas, his MLS team, in July. "I mean from forever. This country has given my family so many opportunities, and it really has helped me achieve my goals. What better way to help them by hopefully one day lifting up a World Cup? I feel warmly welcomed, and I can't wait to show that I deserve to be here.

Pepi also elaborated on his decision in a statement posted to Twitter in August. Pepi said he frequently visited family in Ciudad Juarez, just across the US-Mexic border, and is proud of his Mexican heritage, but he grew up in the US.

"I was born and raised in the USA," Pepi's statement read. "This country has given me and my family a home, and endless possibilities to achieve my dreams. It has supported me, it has lifted me up, and it has shown me when you work hard, you will be rewarded."

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World Cup qualifiers resume in October.

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