FRISCO, Texas – During a Tuesday morning training session across the street from Toyota Stadium, FC Dallas were entrenched in their usual routine, working in the last third with the second-team attack pressuring the first-team defense.
Sandwiched between Matt Hedges and Zach Loyd, two of the club’s most veteran defenders, was a skinny kid wearing a blue FCD academy jersey, going toe-to-toe with professionals who stand within one point of a share of the Supporters’ Shield lead.
The kid was 14-year-old Jesus Ferreira, son of former FC Dallas star and 2010 MLS MVP David Ferreira.
“He’s special,” said Luchi Gonzalez, Ferreira’s coach with the club’s U-16 team. “He’s got moments of improvisation that aren’t coachable.”
Born in the year 2000, Jesus has been with the FC Dallas Academy for the last three years and currently belongs in the U-15 age group. But because of the natural ability that seemingly flows through his DNA, the younger Ferreira currently trains with the next age bracket up, the U-16s, and has now experienced running with the FCD first team.
He has even trained with the Colombian U-15 national team, according to his coaches, and is fighting for a roster spot with the Colombia U-17s for the upcoming FIFA U-17 World Cup.
“He’s a player that can carry the ball,” Gonzalez told MLSsoccer.com. “He’s special on the dribble. He can commit defenders and beat them, or commit them and release teammates. He’s good finishing in the last third. He’s a very technical player. He can improvise if he’s in a hole or being pressured or double-teamed. He has skill to get out of it. He has a lot of things you can’t coach in terms of talent and playmaking.”
Jesus is the recipient of tutelage not just from Gonzalez and his academy coaches, who helped guide the U-16s to a US Soccer Development Academy championship in July, but also his well-decorated father.
The elder Ferreira (pictured at right) played with FC Dallas for five seasons, including an MVP campaign in his second year with the club in 2010, and scored 24 goals and 39 assists despite missing much of the 2011 and 2012 seasons with an ankle injury.
Add a slew of Colombian national team appearances to David's resume, and Jesus has quite the soccer brain to pick on a daily basis.
“I appreciate the fact that he’s giving me examples and stuff because I can apply that to the game,” Jesus told MLSsoccer.com. “And that can make me a better player, because he was a pro.”
Jesus said the former MLS MVP doesn’t save all of his advice for the dinner table, though. David attends many of Jesus’ academy games and like many proud parents, supports Jesus vocally.
“He goes to my games and starts screaming and telling me what to do and stuff,” the 14-year-old said. “But sometimes at home, he just tells me, ‘You have to open up,’ and stuff like that. If I’m not running, he tells me to run. He tells me to play simple.”
But even though Jesus is able to soak in a wealth of soccer knowledge on a daily basis because of his pedigree, following in his father’s footsteps is not always the easiest thing to do.
While the 14-year-old said he loves the fact he has an edge in learning about the game that many young players don’t have, his coaches want him to focus on forging his own identity.
“These guys, they always have that name and many times, people immediately relate them with the level of their dads. That’s a little unfair,” said FC Dallas head coach Oscar Pareja, whose own 10-year-old son is also a member of the club’s academy. “What I encourage everybody is to let him be himself, let him develop his own way, and we as coaches play a big key on that. Let him build his own path, and be what they are.”
Part of Pareja and the club’s plan to help players forge their own path is integrating the young talent with the first team on a regular basis. On the field with Ferreira that Tuesday morning were two of his academy counterparts, all relishing in the opportunity to run with the likes of Hedges, Loyd & Co.
“We start touching on the younger ages with the first team to bring these guys to our training and let them compete with MLS players and competing in duels, 1v1s here and there, and get them used to the fast pace of the game,” Pareja said. “That helps them, and I know it’s a great experience that they won’t forget.”
Loyd, 28, has now shared a field with both Ferreiras, having playing with David for four seasons. He, too, offers high praise for Pareja’s philosophy.
“When I was young, those opportunities were not possible,” Loyd told MLSsoccer.com. “So to see that in today’s game I think is huge for the future of soccer here.”
Gonzalez, who has just begun coaching Ferreira as he climbs the academy ladder, believes Pareja’s developmental philosophy – which even extends to academy coaches who occasionally get to sit on the bench of a professional-level game – is second to none.
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“You’ve got three 15-year-olds and a 14-year-old that just got to spar with the pro team. I’m not sure if that’s happening anywhere else in the country,” Gonzalez said after last Tuesday's practice. “That’s credit to the staff on the first team, because they are ex-academy guys, [and] Oscar’s belief in the youth program. He shows it not just in training sessions, but in games that count with the pressure to get a result.”
The younger Ferreira is the latest to reap the benefits of the emphasis on youth in Frisco. Still, both of his coaches understandably reiterated that the budding talent still has a ways to go, mentioning that he still must learn how to become a consistent two-way player, among other tactical lessons.
“He obviously has the pedigree and the bloodline, but he’s earning it himself,” Gonzalez said. “He has great, special moments that aren’t just reflective of his dad, but are his own little style and way of playing. He’s creating his own avenue, and we’re very happy to see where he can go.”
And while the pressure may appear to be there from outside the FCD academy gates, the 14-year-old up-and-comer insists there is none.
“I don’t think so,” Jesus said when asked if feels the pressure because of his father. “He just gives me an example, and I follow it. I think I can make a career out of this.”