National Writer: Charles Boehm

Jesus Ferreira responds to World Cup pressure with 4-goal outburst for USMNT

AUSTIN, Texas – Friday night's final result was the rout most expected, a scoreline lopsided enough for some to dismiss the whole occasion entirely. Yet the US men’s national team had to earn their 5-0 Concacaf Nations League thumping of Grenada just the same, and the star performer at sultry Q2 Stadium did not hide the struggles he overcame in the process.

After joining a very select club of USMNT scorers from across the past century with his four-goal outburst, Jesus Ferreira revealed the self-doubt he wrestled with after failing to convert a few chances against Morocco and Uruguay, leaving his status as Gregg Berhalter’s first-choice striker very much up in the air as the Qatar 2022 World Cup approaches.

“Lately I've been having [issues with] mental toughness, and trying to work on my mind, knowing that I haven't been performing at the level that I'm supposed to,” said FC Dallas' homegrown Young Designated Player. “But I have a group of people around me that support me and let me know what I bring to the team. And so I'm trying to focus more on having a good game, making sure that my first touch is good, helping my teammates in any way I can, and that the goals will come.

“Today it showed that I focused more on the touches and the runs than just scoring goals, and we saw the result there.”

Berhalter said he’d seen the emotional weight his 21-year-old attacker was carrying, enough to pull him aside for a one-on-one earlier in the day.

“Any time a player is under pressure, you look for how they respond. And that's the important thing. And no matter what the level of the opponent is, the player still has to perform,” said the coach of the MLS Golden Boot presented by Audi leader. “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.

“I've said that to you all along, he does a lot of other stuff that really helps this group be successful. And so I just said, 'Go out there and relax and play your game.' And he had four goals, and it's great for him, I'm happy for him. And those goals matter, and the finishes that he had were excellent. Against any opponent, you look for the quality of the strikes, and where he's putting the ball, the placement of the ball, and he had some good goals today.”

Ferreira has enjoyed himself in the River City; he bagged his first career brace in Dallas’ 5-3 win over Austin FC at Q2 last August. Friday was another banner night for FCD standouts, as winger Paul Arriola once again demonstrated his value to the program with a goal of his own and an assist on Ferreira’s second.

“How about FC Dallas today, guys, right?” wisecracked Berhalter. “I think someone should say something about that – responsible for all the goals tonight. Paul's a guy that, he shows up. He shows up in big games with his intensity, with his effort, but also with his production. And he did it today with a goal and an assist.”

It pointed to both the chemistry that the Ferreira-Arriola duo have crafted, and the continuing philosophical overlap between the North Texas club and the national team.

“It's a special connection,” said Ferreira of his relationship with Arriola. “We train every day back at home, and when we can link up here on the national team, that's something that, it facilitates the gameplay. I know every moment that he can do and he knows all my movements, so it makes it easier to connect and score goals.”

Said Arriola: “Jesus makes it easy for me. He's a great player, really good at understanding off the ball, when he’s on the ball he has a lot of quality, understanding where the space is.”

The winger acknowledged that it was an imperfect performance overall, particularly in the first half, as Grenada put up admirable resistance despite playing their third CNL game in seven days, interspersed with an exhausting sequence of travel connections and delays.

But the Goliath in the matchup eventually brought its overwhelming superiority to bear, and the US can move on to Tuesday’s visit to El Salvador, where Berhalter said Haji Wright will start, an opportunity for him to show why he belongs in the striker corps for the World Cup this November.

It appears increasingly certain that Ferreira’s place on that list is secure.

“We need strikers that score goals,” noted midfielder standout Luca de la Torre, “and he stepped up.”