One of United States forward Ricardo Pepi's biggest challenges since moving to Germany has been to convince people why he chose to join relegation-threatened Augsburg.
The 19-year-old Pepi, who was arguably the brightest prospect in Major League Soccer after scoring 13 goals for FC Dallas last season, surprised many in early January when he switched to Augsburg, a relatively unspectacular club that has predominantly finished in the bottom half of the Bundesliga since it first earned promotion in 2011.
This season is proving to be another slog for the Bavarian club. Markus Weinzierl's team has only won one of its last eight league games, and it currently occupies the relegation playoff place with 11 games remaining.
"In life you have take some risks, and that's a risk I took to be able to come to Augsburg and be able to help the team," Pepi told journalists in an online video call this week.
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The player had been close to joining Volkswagen-backed Wolfsburg, which qualified for the Champions League last season, while Liverpool and Manchester United were also reportedly interested. Some felt Bayern Munich might have been an option due to the Bavarian powerhouse's partnership with FC Dallas.
But Pepi landed at Augsburg, which broke its transfer record to sign the then-18-year-old for more than 13 million euros ($14.8 million) plus potential add-ons, the highest amount for a transfer of a homegrown American player from MLS.
Many of the questions Pepi faced during the call focused on the reasons for his switch.
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"It's about the confidence. Augsburg obviously, they made the big transfer because they have confidence in me and they wanted me to come to the team, and obviously I had to take that under consideration," said Pepi, who said other clubs had shown interest without reaching any agreement with FC Dallas.
"I was planning on staying in MLS for about another year or another two years. But out of nowhere, Augsburg talked to my agent, talked to FC Dallas and decided to come with an offer," Pepi said. "My agent called me and he was like, `Hey, what do you think about Augsburg, like FC Augsburg?' And I was like, `You know what? They're a great team."'
Pepi said he and his agent talked about the risks involved, particularly in a World Cup year -- the forward has three goals in nine appearances for the United States -- and he also discussed the transfer with his parents.
"We all came to an agreement that Augsburg was going to be a great opportunity for me and this is the next step. We're talking about the next step for my career. We felt like the Bundesliga was certainly a step that I wanted to take," Pepi said.
He said he spoke with national teammates Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Gio Reyna about their experiences in Germany, and they convinced him that the Bundesliga was ideal for his development.
"It's just faster. Everything's more dynamic, everything's more intense, in every game, every practice," Pepi said. "In the U.S. I remember we'd have some sessions where they're a little bit lighter because it would be gameday in two days. But here, every day we're practicing intense and we're always ready to go."
So far, it's been a difficult transition. Pepi is yet to score in five league appearances -- one draw and four defeats. But he's not worried about his scoring drought.
"I came to this team for a reason and that's for my development and obviously it was a big transfer," Pepi said. "But now, you know, being in the team, I feel more comfortable every week that passes by. So, being patient, but also being really anxious to score my first goal."
Augsburg next hosts unpredictable Borussia Dortmund on Sunday. Second-placed Dortmund routed Borussia Monchengladbach last weekend but is equally capable of losing 5-2 at home to Bayer Leverkusen, while it lost 4-2 at home to Rangers in the Europa League last week. Dortmund was to play the return leg in Glasgow on Thursday.
"My family's going to be in town, so that's going to be a little different," Pepi said of Dortmund's visit on Sunday. "So hopefully I can get something."