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Ferreira throws down the gauntlet to the USMNT striker pool with his four-goal gem

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The U.S. men’s national team striker pool has been a bit of a cursed bunch over the past year, with several candidates for the starting role falling victim to everything from injuries to poor runs of form to changes in positional roles with their club teams.

The instability has made the search for one clear choice a difficult one for Gregg Berhalter. From Ricardo Pepi’s form going colder than Minnesota in the winter, to Daryl Dike suffering injuries that wiped out most of his first season in England, to Jordan Pefok squandering his chance to impress Berhalter in March, then coming down with an injury just as he had positioned himself for another look, candidates for the USMNT striker role have been stuck in a revolving door of disappointment.

Enter Jesus Ferreira, who has had much better luck than his competitors, while also making the most of the chances that have come his way. Berhalter first deployed Ferreira in a striker role that felt more like false-nine than traditional striker, then former USMNT assistant Nico Estevez was hired by FC Dallas and implemented the same system the USMNT runs and proceeded to plug Ferreira into the striker role left vacant by Pepi’s transfer. Toss in the acquisition of Paul Arriola to help give Ferreira invaluable support and the recipe was a perfect one for cultivating Ferreira’s adaptation to the striker role.

Friday’s four-goal outburst against Grenada was the culmination of the process. As much as the level of opponent wasn’t exactly World Cup caliber, Ferreira’s finishes were excellent, and he also impressed with his ability to shake off some difficult moments during the match before his barrage of second-half goals.

JuCredit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

“Any time a player is under pressure, you look for how they respond, and that’s the important thing,” Berhalter said on Friday. “And no matter what the level the opponent is, the player still has to perform, and Jesus, I sensed he was under pressure. I talked to him this afternoon and I told him that we don’t judge him just based on goals. And I’ve said that to you all along, he does a lot of other stuff that really helps this group be successful.”

Berhalter’s pep talk before Friday’s match may have felt needed for a player who had managed just one goal in his previous nine USMNT appearances, but Ferreira also entered the current camp in excellent club form with FC Dallas, and though he didn’t score against Morocco or Uruguay earlier in June, he showed against Grenada all the qualities that have been on display in MLS over the past three months.

“I’ve been working a lot on my mental side of the game and knowing how to move on from plays,” Ferreira said. “Everyone noticed that I was very frustrated at that moment because that was a an easy goal, easy header by myself and I have to finish those. But learning that I can move on from that and still stay at a high level, that’s what I’ve been working on a lot. It paid off that I just had to move on and get on to the next opportunity.”

Ferreira’s continued improvement in the attacking aspects of the striker role, combined with his stellar defensive workrate and penchant for relentless pressing, making him ideally-suited for Berhalter’s system and is why he hold on the starting striker spot is only growing stronger.

Photo by John Todd/ISI Photos

The World Cup is fast approaching, and Ferreira is looking more and more like a safe bet to be a starter, let alone on the team, but the FC Dallas standout isn’t ready to take anything for granted. He knows all too well how much can change in the coming months, and it’s helping keep him grounded even as his stock continues to rise.

“I don’t really want to think that much ahead,” Ferreira said of the prospect of being the USMNT starting striker at the World Cup. “There’s a lot of good players out there that can take care of that spot. What I want to do is just keep focus, keep working hard to earn more performances, earn more minutes to show what I can do for the team.

“I don’t want to think too much ahead of that. I want to just stay in the present. Keep doing day by day and keep working hard.”

Comments

  1. How many times have we said with our strikers, “He didn’t get any chances.” “he lacked service, you can’t blame him.” That doesn’t happen with Ferreira, even against Uruguay and Morocco. His finishing rate may not be the best but I do know you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, so if he’s creating 3 or 4 times as many chances that’s who we go with.

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  2. All credit to JF for putting the ball at the back of the net. He can only score against the opponents that he faces. That said, we really ought not to read too much into this. I remember when Wondowlowski lit up some similarly obscure Caribbean team and it really didn’t amount to much in the big picture.

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  3. Yeah I have to agree, this is overly positive.
    It was good. But there were chances at :32 and :48 that a top striker would have one touched, and he two touched them and his chance closed up.
    Then early in the second half the LDT cross would have hit him in the chin if he had not headed it over the net. This was an uncontested header and if it had been the only chance of a game we’d still be talking about it. At that point in the game we’re all still shaking our heads about the striker situation, and then obviously things change quickly and then we’re getting highlight reel stuff against a defeated team.

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  4. Grenada wasn’t about Ferreira proving himself to anyone but himself. Berhalter was giving him a chance to see the ball hit the back of the net.
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    He’s not the strongest CF but he is a lot faster than people think. His movement off the ball is best among our current pool, better than any of the wing/MF players would have being played out of position. He at times gets a little “cute” with his finishing trying to finesse in the perfect shot instead of just blasting it and hopping the keeper can’t hold it.
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    In 2019 Tab wanted him to be the CF for the U20 WC but his citizenship came thru five months too late. I wonder if perception would be different if people had seen him alongside Weah, Dest, and Richards that summer.
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    I think he’ll be in Europe by January, which will change a lot of perception. I think he’d fit in great at Salzburg. His ability to play off of the other forward RBS uses and his pressing ability would fit perfectly. It’s a move I’d actually be ok with if it happened now. I’m sure he’s watched carefully and seen how a poor move has hurt Pepi though and will sit tight this window.

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    • I like the Salzburg idea. That seems a good level for where he is at the moment and could be a good jumping-off point like it was for Aaronson. And we know Ferreirra fits that system because, well, he does.

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  5. I’m sorry, but I totally disagree with you Ives. To make any conclusions from this game against Grenada, a semi pro team is irresponsible. Jesus is not proven to be an international quality striker yet. When he can score against better competition then I think we could make those conclusions. Until then, the USMNT still doesn’t have a true starting striker.

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    • Todd, Ferreira took his opportunity and solidified his starting place. You can dispute that if you want because you don’t rate him, but that’s pretty much living in denial of the current reality. Nowhere in the article does it say Ferreira is “the answer” or “guaranteed World Cup goal scorer”, but the reality is he has taken hold of the starting spot and Friday only put a stronger grip on it. Doesn’t mean he still can’t lose it, but the onus is on the rest of the striker field to take the job from him. It’s fine if you don’t think he’s a “true” starting striker, but right now he is the USMNT’s starting striker until further notice. Pretending the Grenada match did nothing to strengthen his position isn’t reality.

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      • Yup. I mean, granted, Grenada. And it wasn’t the most emphatic four goals I’ve ever seen and it could have and maybe should have been six…but still. Four goals. By a striker. For a team that’s desperate for a striker.

        Granted, we once watched Wondo put three past Belize himself, but still. Combine that with the movement, the intelligence, the chances Ferreira creates for himself and others…if there’s better, we haven’t seen it yet. And the window’s all but closed now. We have, what, this last Nations League game plus two friendlies left?

      • Its not that I don’t rate him, I just think such a conclusion to solidifying his spot on the WC squad can’t be made from this match. Unfortunately for him, he had the chance to prove it against Morocco and Uruguay and didn’t do it.

      • The only guy I could see who has the time and opportunity to take the starter’s gig away from Ferreira is maybe Haji Wright. If he puts a hat trick or a brace on El Salvador and then finds himself a good next stop after Antalyaspor, and then kills it there…well, maybe. And the big dogs in the Turkish league do apparently have a history of buying players from the teams below them, so he could wind up with Galatasaray or Besiktas with a bunch of opportunities, so sure, I could see Wright in red-hot form ending up as our #1 for Qatar. Obviously the core players on the team love him.

        Even then, though, it’s hard to not see Ferreirra at least making the plane and seeing a fair number of minutes in Qatar, unless he just goes ice cold and other guys like Sargent or Dike or Hoppe just take off like rockets over the next 3-4 months. Which isn’t much time.

      • Quozzel,

        “other guys like………. just take off like rockets over the next 3-4 months. Which isn’t much time.”

        Not enough time? That’s all the time you need.
        If Gio is healthy and fit in October, all things being equal he’s the new false 9. I wouldn’t worry about it at all.

        Pepi, Dike, Hoppe, Sargent, Wright etc., all the other #9 candidates, if things go well, also could have at least a few weeks worth of games vs teams that will be far tougher than the semi pro punching bag that Berhalter left Ferreira in longer than normal to face so he could beat up on them.

        And if one of those alternative guys catches fire, that’s less important than the quality Jesus showed when beating up on weakling Grenada set up as target practice for him?

        Berhalter has been trying to prove the false 9 works since he shoved Lletget into it. Berhalter believes his tactical wrinkle is so good that it doesn’t matter who he shoves in there, the team will win with it. And yeah, if you keep playing high school teams like Grenada the tactic will work.

        But against teams of higher “quality” maybe it hasn’t worked so well because Jesus just isn’t very good right now or Berhalter won’t or can’t try the most obvious candidates for the false 9, guys like Reyna, Djorde or maybe even Aaronson.

        You know how you guys talk about Jesus’ movement and that stuff?

        Wondo was better at that when he played for the USMNT than Jesus ever will be. And Wondo was just a better soccer player than Jesus.

        But, fair or not, Wondo will always be seen as a USMNT failure because he couldn’t score when it mattered.

      • Actually agree on Wondo, it was the durndest thing. Even John Terry once remarked how good Wondo was after watching film on him. At MLS level, Wondo was a machine and probably the best finisher (aside from maybe Thierry Henry or Carlos Vela or Zlatan) I’ve ever seen in the league. But durn if he didn’t get the yips when he got the big spotlight in his face for the Nats.

        So, yeah, I definitely see a CHANCE for some of the others to make a case, if one of them really catches lightning in a bottle right out of the gate from August. But those September friendlies are the last two games anybody will have to make a case…is Gregg still going to be taking auditions at that late date or is he going to be concentrating on World Cup prep since basically they hop off the plane in Qatar and then go play Wales? (Thanks, FIFA!)

        I hadn’t thought about Gio as a false 9. That’s an intriguing thought and I could see it.

      • No one solidifies anything against Granada. No one establishes themselves against Granada, or proves anything.

        I guess, except, maybe if you look poor, then you solidify an exit.

        But it could be 14-0 and Jesus could have scored 13 goals and he still wouldn’t prove anything.
        Might as well be beating San Marino or Lichtenstein.

    • The problem is we don’t have an “international quality striker” that Jesus is keeping on the bench. Someone needs to start at the 9. Sometimes the only thing you can do is go with the “least bad” choice. Right now, that is Jesus.

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  6. I love his intelligent movement. You watch him and he’s constantly shifting around, looking to get off his man’s back shoulder, makes dangerous and well-timed runs into space, and all that creates chances for himself…and even when he doesn’t get directly involved he reads the flow of play and he’ll use his movement to drag defenders with him, which opens the space for others to dribble into.

    Contrast that with the absolutely static or unintelligent movement of, say, Pefok, and it’s night-and-day. Pefok didn’t have a good game – at all! – against Mexico but the thing that stood out the most for me was that Gio Reyna dribble where Gio juked pretty much the entire Mexican team…until the ball got poked away right at the edge of the 18 before he could shoot.

    Why? Because Pefok had completely gummed stuff up for Gio by just sitting in that space like a bump on a log…and then, at the last moment, he actually ran TOWARDS Gio like a U-6 flocking to the ball instead of opening up like a real striker should have and dragged his defender with him. I was livid, and pretty much done with Pefok right there. Gio should have gotten the opportunity to score. He’d done the work. His teammate was just really, really dumb.

    Ferreira’s the complete opposite of that. He’s constantly active, constantly shifting around, and his brain and feet never stop and he reads the game by FAR the best of any of our forwards. Doesn’t stop me from wishing he was bigger and stronger and could hold the ball up like Pepi or especially Wright, that he was faster – again, like Pepi or especially Wright – or that he had more venom on his finishes or was better in the air,,,like, actually, Pepi or especially Pefok, who is absolutely magnificent in the air.

    I agree he’s the best of the lot AT THE MOMENT, though I think Pepi, over the long term, Matthew Hoppe, and maybe even Haji Wright are the most talented strikers in the pool, and I still have hopes for Dike and I think he could really hone his game in England. (Dike’s movement is really, really good too.)

    But Qatar? I’d bet on Ferreira to start, as of today, anyhow. He’s ahead of the others at the moment.

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    • You keep pushing this Pefok not running narrative for 2 months now. Pefok absolutely, beyond a shadow of a doubt, knew Gio was going to juke 5 players? Have you watched the match? 8 other players didn’t run, CP was behind Gio & stopped. Pefok’s job is to not be offside. Thats what he did. That’s exactly what happened. Btw- Tillman plays exactly like Pogba, same position and everything, great comparison. Q- I really need you on my dart team, cuz you always hit the bullseye!

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      • For a guy who says It’s Ok 2 Think you don’t come across as particularly bright, and Good God you’re a jerk. I’m sure you’re real fun at parties. Yes, Pefok should have vacated the space and tried to drag defenders away or tried to provide an outlet; his movement is painfully static and he doesn’t run the channels at all, probably mostly because he can’t dribble either. Ferreirra is really, really good at anticipation and he almost certainly would have cleared out in that situation and dragged a defender with him.

        All decent youth coaches – I’m a national USSF coach who has coached all the way up to ODP – teach their players “get off the railroad tracks, find the next pocket of space, use your movement to try to get off your defender’s shoulder”. Not just “don’t be offsides.” At least that’s what I taught Doug Allison’s son Callum back when I coached him, and Doug’s players -which included this guy called Walker Zimmerman – were working with my players, including my son. Maybe we were just all confused. I defer to your superior intellect.

        As for Tillman, I was always real plain that there’s a huge difference between “prospect” and “player” and I was genuinely curious to see how far along he was, and if he’d ever get anything close to his apparent ceiling. But yeah, physically, and with the ball at his feet, he strongly resembles a young Pogba. It remains to be seen if he ever develops into anything like the player Pogba was, though…and I also mentioned his brother was once the Next Big Thing and now plays with Julian Green at Furth.

    • Q- although I agree with your overall assessment that Pefok is lacking in off ball movements, I went back and rewatched the Mexico play. He is trying to stay onside and slides to the left to give Gio room on his right foot. I don’t think any striker could pull three defenders out of the middle to give Gio the room he would have needed to get off his shot. His movement was pretty basic but it didn’t cause Reyna’s run to be stopped, no one else running did just as much.

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      • Watching it again, you’re right, actually. It was #3 and not #17 – who was on Wright – who actually poked the ball away, so I was wrong…Gio was NOT going to get a shot, he had that one last guy to beat and didn’t. That was still the most sluggish move away (which he cut off) I’ve ever seen from Pefok, he didn’t open up space at all, which kept 17 in the middle, and Pefok WAS actually coming back inside towards Reyna there at the end. But durn Pefok still could have been way more active, tried to find some space and give Gio an outlet. OPEN UP MAN!!! Provide an outlet, maybe there’s a 1-2 to be had and Gio’s in on goal. There was just nowhere for Gio to go with the ball there at the end.

        Also true Pefok wasn’t the only one not moving much there. Whole team sort of quit on Gio. I’ll give the US players credit, usually this gen is pretty durn good about getting down the field so I’ll chalk that up to thin air and late.

        Still grumpy about that. You hate to see something like that wasted because the players around Gio aren’t good enough to help him.

      • Q-I’ll give the rest of the squad some latitude it was the 75th minute at altitude with smog. Gio and Pefok had been on for 15 minutes. I’m not so sure Gio after putting it on a platter for Pefok 5 mins earlier hadn’t already decided there was no way he was passing to him again anyway.

    • All of you are missing what really happened. It was excellent defending. Watke describes it perfectly if you can find it.

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    • Sounds like you’re talking about Wondo, who was better at “movement” than Ferreira.

      We all saw how that worked out in the World Cup.

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  7. I think it is a real leap to proclaim him the starter for the WC. We really need to see more of him, Pefok, and Wright against top competition. Don’t know if we will get the chance, but I don’t feel comfortable putting him into the starting role at this point off of one game vs. Grenada. I would feel more comfortable playing a couple of attacking mids more than putting Ferreira as the starting 9. For example, if Reyna is healthy and playing to his potential, add Pulisic, Aronson, and Weah with McKennie and Adams in some arrangement plus 4 defenders and a goalie. Ferreira isn’t as good as any of these players. If necessary, adjust the formation to adapt to the players.

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    • I realized later that I left out Musah who is also better than Ferreira. If we put our best 11 on the field, Ferreira isn’t among them.

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      • Gary you know enough about soccer to know you never have your best 11 on the field, unless maybe an all star game or a retirement testimonial. Cobi Jones was a better player than Cle Kooiman or Mike Sorber but he didn’t start in ‘94 in the group stages.

  8. “Gem” is more than a bit of a stretch. Happy to be proven wrong, but I still don’t think he has the physical or technical attributes to give the USMNT what is needed for 2022. Yes, he’s young. Yes, he’s relatively new to the role. With more time at the position, maybe he grows. Yes, if Reyna can’t play the 9, I’ll take Jesus. 4 goals is nothing to sniff at. And yet… the first half looked weak, his shot lacks power, and this was Granada. I don’t think he sniffs the net against Wales or England.

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    • Granada proves nothing, but the US obsession with size, speed and other physical attributes is BS for a striker.

      Inzaghi, schilliaci, and fat Ronaldo (along with many others) prove that either you have that touch or you don’t. Maybe Ferreira has the touch. Maybe not. But we won’t know against Granada… And his qualifying performances give me pause.

      I still remember everyone going nuts over Pepi b/c he scored 2 against Honduras and i remember saying that he missed several sitters that gave me pause and that I don’t think he would score again.

      I believe i also said Canada would qualify first or second in that window.

      It was a good set of prognostications.

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  9. He is definitely a type of striker the USMNT hasn’t had in the past. Another aspect of his game that he hasn’t shown much with the USMNT is his ability to create from the dribble which will only grow as he becomes more comfortable at that position. I really think he has the best movement from the striker department right now. He has a relentless motor and more than enough pace and explosion to separate from defenders. If he can bang in goals at a more consistent rate for country like he does for club he will be a force at the WC.

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