It is one of Concacaf’s enduring, and endearing, quirks that Davids and Goliaths face off fairly often here. And the asymmetry of Wednesday night’s matchup between the United States, the region’s current frontrunners, and little St. Kitts and Nevis was driven home by the words of the islanders’ head coach Austin Huggins after the USMNT's 6-0 rout of his side in Gold Cup Group A action.
“21,216,” said Huggins, reeling off the official attendance of the match at CITYPARK in St. Louis during his postgame press conference. “I remember the count well. It was the most people we ever played – well, me, I think most of the guys, ever played [in front of]. That was almost the whole of St. Kitts and Nevis in the stadium, or maybe one of those islands in the stadium.”
This is the first-ever Gold Cup experience for the Sugar Boyz, who sit 136th in the most recent FIFA World Rankings. Such a vast disparity between the two teams inevitably limits the depth of analysis when it comes to the Yanks’ performance.
Yet the clean, clinical composure of Jesús Ferreira’s man-of-the-match outing – the FC Dallas star bagged a hat trick in just 56 minutes on the pitch – ensured that he will remain part of the USMNT’s suddenly crowded outlook at the striker position after another well-rounded display as the tip of the spear.
“Jesús leads our line defensively. He knows exactly how we want to press and so I thought that helped him, in my opinion, get into the game offensively,” said interim head coach B.J. Callaghan. “And then you can see the quality that he can come down and link-up play. And then obviously he's able to score three goals tonight. So a complete performance, in my mind, for Jesús.”
While it must be noted that many of his goals were scored against Caribbean minnows, the record book shows Ferreira on an unprecedented scoring trajectory for the national team, fueled by a variety of intelligent movement that creates chances for himself and others. His understanding with Djordje Mihailovic, the provider on two of his goals, was notable, and the former Chicago Fire FC and CF Montréal playmaker also bagged two fine finishes in his own right.
“Djordje, I thought he showed his quality,” said Callaghan. “He's a player that is really comfortable in between the lines. As he gets closer to the penalty box he becomes a real threat, whether it's from running behind the back line, arriving in the penalty box.”
“Jesús, it starts with his ability to lead our line against the ball, right? Even in the beginning, you saw him almost steal the ball in the first 30 seconds of the game. So he's a relentless player,” said the coach, who’s running the program for this tournament as his former colleague Gregg Berhalter prepares to resume his post later this year.
“He's got a great feel for the game, can come down and link up, makes these little darting runs in behind the back line. And for me, you see this now this desire from him that he understands that as a No. 9 you have the pressure to score goals, and that's a pressure that he's leaning into. He wants it, he's driven by it. And then the completeness of his game is that you see that high level of selflessness from him, and that's what makes him a great teammate and somebody that we're all supporting.”
With the USMNT having somewhat fortuitously tied Jamaica 1-1 in their opening match, the widespread expectation is that those two Group A favorites would win out in their other matches vs. St. Kitts and Trinidad and Tobago, whom the Yanks will meet at Charlotte FC’s Bank of America Stadium on Sunday (7 pm ET | FOX, Univision).
That raises the importance of goal differential in deciding who will finish tops in the group and thus avoid dropping into the side of the knockout round bracket projected to include Mexico and Canada.
“We knew that we had to come out here and gain points, gain goals,” Ferreira, a 2023 MLS All-Star, said in a fieldside Concacaf postgame interview. “And I think the team went out there and took care of business.”