0910 DAL sider

Sometimes the course of a match, even a whole season, can shift in one fleeting instant. That might well have been the case for FC Dallas and Jesus Ferreira Saturday night.

Hosting league leaders LAFC in a massive Western Conference clash at a sold-out Toyota Stadium – a fixture Ferreira later called “a must-win” – the North Texans were trailing 1-0 deep into the second half despite a DOGSO straight red card for former FCD standout Ryan Hollingshead just minutes into the game.

A Chicho Arango breakaway just before halftime had put the visitors in front and Dallas looked snake-bitten as they chased the game, with a Paul Arriola equalizer waved off by the tightest of offside decisions and some superb saves from Maxime Crepeau.

Then Marco Farfan scrapped tenaciously with his opposite number Franco Escobar for a loose ball along the endline, earning a 78th-minute foul call that infuriated Escobar. As LAFC’s right back complained emotionally, tossing the ball in frustration, Arriola picked it up and made eye contact with Ferreira as the striker lurked in the penalty box.

“We have that chemistry inside the field and outside the field,” Ferreira later said of Arriola, his colleague with FCD and the US men’s national team, in a postgame interview with Dallas' local broadcast crew. “Whenever we can see each other and sense each other, we know that something's going to come. So once I saw him pick up the ball, I knew that there was gonna be a play and then I got on the end of it.”

With the Black & Gold defense completely distracted, Arriola played a quick free kick to Ferreira, who stabbed home a clinical, angled first-time finish to level the score and turn the game on its head. Just three minutes later Ferreira struck again for the 2-1 winner, via another set piece that once again featured more brainpower than force or speed.

A Diego Palacios foul on Nanu right on the edge of LAFC’s box prompted a lengthy VAR check to ensure it was not a penalty kick. And as Crepeau prepared for what is almost always a cross in such situations, Ferreira kept his eye on the LAFC goalkeeper’s body shape – and exploited it with a knuckling hit into the far side netting for the win.

“I was talking to the guys and I was telling that I was going to cross it, but I just wanted the ‘keeper to move a little bit. Once I saw him move a little bit, then that's when I took a shot,” explained Ferreira afterwards. “There's a lot of guys in the box and I know that anything can happen, and I'm happy that it went in.”

Two restarts, two goals, three huge points – not only for FCD, who are eager to keep stacking up the results they need to stay in the top half of the West postseason bracket and earn the home-field advantage that offers in the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs, but also for the Philadelphia Union, who are steadily gaining ground on fading LAFC in the race for the Supporters’ Shield.

“Big pride to Javi Cabello, our assistant coach,” said Dallas head coach Nico Estevez postgame. “He has a methodology with the players that he makes the players make the decisions [on set pieces]. Then when we train, we show the opponent, how they position themselves, some of the behaviors and they design the set plays in conjunction with him. He gives advice to them, and then after he selects the ones that they have prepared together as a group.

“We always have that situation where the players have to decide. And then I think it is working, it's working very well. You could see there how they were very sharp in paying attention on where the situation is and how we can hurt them.”

The brace is also huge for Ferreira individually. It brings him level with his club’s single-season scoring record (18) with three games to go, keeps him in the 2022 MLS Golden Boot presented by Audi race and burnishes his credentials for the USMNT’s starting striker spot at the World Cup this fall.

“I think so,” said Estevez, a former assistant to USMNT boss Gregg Berhalter, when asked whether Ferreira deserves that starting role. “I talked with him: You have to be focused on what you can control in the team. If you do well, they will talk of you. But also, he has the confidence from the staff. He has the confidence from his teammates. He has the confidence from the US men’s national team teammates, because what he does is really good and they value his quality.

“To get into the World Cup, he has to do well with us, and he knows that and he's showing it. And I think if he keeps doing that, he'll be ready to do anything that is asked of him.”

Estevez cracked a smile when reminded Ferreira, who’s still only 21 years old, had set a personal goal of 20 goal involvements at the start of the 2022 campaign. (The homegrown turned Young Designated Player is now at 23 and counting.)

“Jesus is a player that always is pushing and I think I remember when he got to 10, and I talked with him and said, now another 10,” said the Spaniard, describing the extent of Ferreira’s tactical and psychological improvement over the course of the season. Notably, Ferreira himself dubbed the night's win "a message to the rest of the league" about Dallas' credentials as an MLS Cup contender.

“In these two games that he had to be the captain, I've seen him with a different mentality and a spirit. He has carried the team. He has shown a lot of mentality with his effort. And I think he's a complete player. He's getting in a spot where if we keep working hard with him, he will be a player that will leave here a lot of good memories for the club.”