USMNT’s Copa América ‘bad’ without knockout round – Pepi

PSV Eindhoven forward Ricardo Pepi set high expectations for the United States at this summer’s 2024 Copa América, saying the bare minimum for success for the team would be to reach the knockout round.

“It’s a tournament where we don’t just want to sit there and compete, we want to make it as far as we can,” Pepi told ESPN. “I think anything besides making it out of the group will be bad for us, so we just want to be able to compete and get the best out of it.”

The U.S. was drawn in Group C and will face Bolívia, Uruguay and Panama in the first stage of the tournament. The top two teams from each group will advance to the quarterfinal knockout round in hopes of lifting the trophy.

The USMNT last featured in the CONMEBOL competition in 2016, reaching the semifinal before falling 4-0 to Argentina. The team concluded the tournament by losing 1-0 to Colombia in the match for third place.

Despite a 5-1 loss to Colombia in a pre-Copa América friendly on Saturday, Pepi emphasized the quality of the players that make up the U.S. roster and said he expects a deep run in the tournament.

“It’s one of the biggest tournaments in the world in terms of the international team,” Pepi said. “It’s a tournament where we really want to show off the talent we have and how good we are as a team. In terms of Copa, we want to be able to make it out of the group, and we want to go as far as we can, making it out of the group.”

Pepi is expected to see time on the pitch for the Stars and Stripes after a standout season with PSV Eindhoven in the Eredivisie. Despite limited playing time, he managed seven goals and two assists in 27 league matches to aid in the team’s championship run.

“I’ve had a conversation with [U.S. coach] Gregg [Berhalter] in terms of just the situation that I’ve been in for the past couple months,” Pepi said. “It’s a situation where I’m scoring a lot of goals, but I’m not playing as many minutes as I want to. And so he talked to me about the difficult situation, but there could always be worse situations.

“He’s like, you’re in a good spot. You’re at PSV, a top 25 team in the world, and so you’re gonna get your opportunities. He always tells me to be patient.

“He wants to start giving me opportunities to compete for a starting spot, that’s good news for me, and so I’m just really motivated and really excited to see what this tournament holds for us.”

Pepi joined PSV ahead of the 2023-24 season from FC Groningen, managing 12 goals in 32 matches before the side was relegated from the Eredivisie.

“I felt like it was a great move to be honest. Great move,” Pepi said. “I had a good season with Groningen, but then we got relegated so it’s also not a good feeling. Then next year, one year later, you’re being the champion of the league so it’s a complete opposite. But I felt for me it was a great move.

“You know, as a player I’ve grown a lot. I am very excited. I’m very happy.”

Pepi will now have to compete against Folarin Balogun and Haji Wright for a starting position in the Copa América lineup. Norwich City striker Josh Sargent is also in the mix for Berhalter’s attack, but he is currently dealing with an injury.

Sargent is not expected to feature in the team’s final pre-Copa América friendly against Brazil on Wednesday, and could lose his spot in the 26-player roster. Berhalter has yet to announce the final squad.

The USMNT kicks off their Copa América campaign on June 23 against Bolivia at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.