Jesus Ferreira is one of those players who seems to be constantly searching for a position.
His attacking talent in terms of touch and finishing is undeniable. However, last year at FC Dallas he played in almost every attacking role you can think of – center striker, three-man flanker, attacking midfielder – and he couldn’t claim any of them.
On Sunday, U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter revealed perhaps Ferreira’s most effective role – a false nine. The Dallas attacker had a memorable night against Trinidad and Tobago. Yes, the Soca Warriors were severely undermanned and hadn’t played an official game in over a year – that was evident when the U.S. took a three-goal lead within 23 minutes. But Ferreira took the opportunity to score two goals and three assists in a 7-0 victory.
In addition, Ferreira’s movement, whether he was dropping to receive the ball or running behind the defensive line, added an extra dimension to the American attack. He handled dropshots well from Paul Arriola and Jonathan Lewis, who provided two goals himself.
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“When you have wings that can threaten an opponent, you can allow yourself to throw a striker while maintaining that verticality and stretching the opponent,” Berhalter said. “We saw it again tonight. We’re very happy with [Ferreira]’s performance. What we talked to him about tonight was that he needed to go to the penalty box, and he certainly did. For me it was a complete performance and he deserved the Man of the Match award.
Of course, this is not the first time Ferreira has played this role. Berhalter used it the same way in a 1-0 friendly win over Costa Rica a year ago, and in a positive way. But for the rest of 2020, things didn’t go well for Ferreira. With designated players Franco Hara and Ricardo Pepi nipping at his heels, and the KOVID-19 battle that put him out of contention for some time, Ferreira seemed to lose his way at times. In 979 minutes at FCD, he tallied just one goal and one assist in 2020. In 63 minutes on Sunday, he flew off.
“Obviously, 2020 was a difficult year for me because I only scored one goal in the league,” he said. “I was a little frustrated, but I didn’t see this year as a year of slowing down. I thought you have to do better.
“We need to make 2020 a much better year than the last two years. And so today in particular was the right step forward.”
Maintaining the confidence of the national team manager can be an important element in overcoming a difficult period. All players are looking for ways to build self-confidence, and the right message at the right time can help a player gain self-confidence when he might not otherwise have it. Ferreira said that was the case with Berhalter.
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“Gregg and I have had a lot of conversations about what’s going on and everything,” he said. “I’m glad he stayed with me and now I can show him what I’m good at.”
It probably won’t get any easier to match this form at club level in 2021. Jara and Pepi are still here to compete. Different teams produce different personnel with different tactics. But Olympic qualification is also on the cards, and U.S. U-23 coach Jason Kreis has long been a fan of Ferreira. A successful qualification could breathe new life into Ferreira and allow him to take a more permanent place in his career.
On Sunday, you could see that other styles of Berhalter were trying to take shape. In particular, outside backs Aaron Herrera and Sam Vines continued to contribute to the attack. And with Jackson Youey making diagonal passes to the wings and USA constantly using overlapping runs, there was room for great opportunities.
The gap between the two teams was so wide that it was hard to pinpoint winners and losers, but some players clearly won more than most. One of them was Vines, especially since the left-back position seems eternally thin, and it was another player for whom Olympic qualification could be an advantage.
Arriola continues to make progress after returning from an ACL injury that kept him sidelined for most of 2020. Lewis showed what damage he can do in a starting role. Goalkeeper Matt Turner barely touched the ball, but he saved a penalty from Alvin Jones – a foe from 2017 when T&T nipped the U.S. out of World Cup qualifying – to keep the zero.
There’s a lot at stake in the 2021 season with the League of Nations final, the Olympics, the Gold Cup and qualifiers for the World Cup. It will be a much tougher test than the United States saw Sunday night, but the year started exactly as Berhalter wanted it to.