AUSTIN, Texas – Jesus Ferreira is tied for the lead in the MLS Golden Boot presented by Audi race, he seems to have surged into pole position in the race for the US men’s national team’s starting No. 9 job and his underlying numbers on both scoring and chance creation have been consistently strong for both club and country.
As holistic as his skill set is, as promisingly as he seems to be linking up with teammates like Christian Pulisic and Tim Weah, that allows the persistent concerns about the team’s lack of scoring punch up top to linger as the Yanks open Concacaf Nations League play vs. Grenada at Q2 Stadium on Friday night (10 pm ET | UniMás, TUDN, ESPN+).
“Yeah, I mean, the main focus as a 9 is to score goals. But a lot of people have to see that the 9 can also assist, and can build out and can help out the build [up],” Ferreira told reporters in Thursday’s pregame press availability. “So I think for my job is to facilitate other players to be able to score and to help the other players be in a position to score goals also. As the connection and chemistry is getting there, every practice we get better and better.”
He started against both Morocco and Uruguay and given past USMNT practices, the fact that FCD’s homegrown Young Designated Player took questions on Thursday could be interpreted as a sign that he is likely to get the nod again. Even as head coach Gregg Berhalter admitted that newcomer Haji Wright has up to now had a small “sample size” with which to state his own case for a bigger role, that suggests that Ferreira remains their preferred option.
Yet the lack of end product from the spearhead of the attack does seem to be troubling the coaching staff as they move into their final two games of the current camp.
“It was more of the finishing attacks phase of the game that we struggled in. We got the ball into really good positions and then just didn't take advantage of that,” said Berhalter after the Uruguay draw. “Overall, the strikers, it's a difficult game. Difficult game against big, strong center backs, aggressive center backs. I think there were there were moments – Jesus had another really good chance – there were moments, and we came up a little bit short. But we'll keep working with these guys.”
Ferreira has shown the ability to spring his teammates into promising situations in the final third and on Thursday he spoke of the growing understanding among the USMNT’s creators as Berhalter tweaks the team’s build-up tactics in search of a spark or two.
“I enjoy playing with these guys and I know that every time I can turn, there’s runners in behind,” he said. “When I play with Brenden [Aaronson], I know that he can always play those balls in behind, so there's always an adaptation that I have to make as a 9, to see if I'm playing with Tim – I know that he's always going to be running behind, or if I play with Brenden or Christian, that I know that they're always going to come inside and play the ball. So I have to adapt.”
Berhalter likes what a false 9-ish type like Ferreira can offer. Then again, some of his most successful Columbus Crew sides had pure finishers leading the line, whose sole job was to get on the end of service into the penalty box.
“I’m not worried about touches. I mean, ideally, they’re getting touches in the penalty box or scoring goals,” said the coach on Sunday. “We've had instances before where the forward barely touches the ball and scores three goals. We want to get them chances. We want to see how they're finishing chances. We want to see how they're competing against elite international players and that's important.
“We have two Nations League games and we'll see if Jesus and Haji can hit the back of the net in those.”
Ferreira recognizes the stakes as the Qatar 2022 World Cup approaches, and is doing his best to stay grounded and go one step at a time.
“As a forward it's important to score goals, to keep your mindset right,” he said. “For me, I think I have a good group of people around me that help me stay focused and know that the goals will come. I know that right now, I'm going through a little struggle, but it's something that if I stay focused and I keep working, things are going to bounce my way.
“It's about learning how to do your one-twos, which is, my one-twos are my first touch runs in behind, so then I can get my final product, which is a three, which is the goal. So it's always just focusing on my ones and twos, so then I can play a good game and have a good game and then I know that the final product will come.”