When looking at the FC Dallas organization, the first thing that comes to mind is the players they’ve developed. Juventus midfielder Weston McKennie spent nine years in the academy and Brondby’s Christian Cappis also spent time there. Chris Richards, Reggie Cannon, Bryan Reynolds and Tanner Tessmann have all come out of the academy and have been sold to European teams. Colorado Rapids midfielder Kellyn Acosta has had success with the national team in 2021 and is a product of the academy. Then, of course, you have FC Dallas teen Ricardo Pepi, who is now a big part of the national team and will likely soon be sold to a big European team for eight figures.
Unfortunately for FC Dallas, the impressive talent churned out by the organization has helped other teams win but it has not helped FC Dallas win. The club is now looking to the future following its 3-2 loss on Wednesday to LAFC that eliminated it from the playoffs. FC Dallas fired head coach Luchi Gonzalez, who previously was the academy director, in September. It raises a lot of questions about the direction of the team.
Even if Pepi leaves, there is still young talent for the future.
Jesus Ferreira, 20, has had a long history with FC Dallas and has been hailed as a top prospect within the organization. He joined the club’s youth teams in 2009 when his father, Colombian international David Ferreira, signed a deal with Dallas and eventually was named the MLS MVP in 2010. The younger Ferreira signed a homegrown deal in 2016.
In 2019, everything was clicking for Ferreira in terms of living up to expectations. He made 30 starts that year for FC Dallas and scored eight goals to go along with five assists. U.S. U-20 head coach Tab Ramos expressed a desire for Ferreira, just 18, to be on the 2019 U-20 World Cup team, but he was unable to secure his American citizenship in time. In December 2019, Ferreira finally became an American citizen and immediately joined the U.S. national team the following month where he started and played well in a 1-0 friendly win over Costa Rica.
But in March, COVID-19 shut down soccer throughout the world. When it resumed that summer, Ferreira found himself in a terrible slump. Gonzalez moved him from position to position – forward, winger, attacking midfielder, his preferred second forward role – but nothing worked. He scored just once.
In 2021, Ferreira has been one of the league’s most improved players. He was called back up to the U.S. national team and scored two goals and assisted on three others in a 7-0 friendly win over Trinidad & Tobago. The impressive form carried over into the season with Dallas.
While the FC Dallas season has seen Pepi dominate the headlines and the firing of Gonzalez has brought about concern over the team’s future, Ferreira’s success has gone under the radar. But his numbers have been excellent.
“I feel like our chemistry is great on and off the field," Pepi said of Ferreira. "We just play for each other. We love playing with each other. We love combining and it just makes it easy on the field.”
Playing in a preferred “false 9” or second striker role, Ferreira has been very effective. Across 1890 minutes and 23 appearances, Ferreira has seven goals and seven assists. The team hasn’t been winning, but his play with Pepi has been exciting, fun to watch, and another reminder of the strength of the FC Dallas academy. Pepi and Ferreira have a tight bond both on and off the field and that has been on display this season.
“They have a good chemistry,” Gonzalez said after an Aug. 29 win over Austin. “They have a good relationship off the field. They’re teammates from the academy. They have a lot of love for each other and each other’s families. So I think that gives them a good foundation to, on the field, show chemistry, show creativity, complementary movements, complementary energy. Not just offensively, but also defensively, to press for each other, to cover for each other."
There are four games remaining in the season and, despite Dallas being eliminated from the postseason, Ferreira has a lot to play for. That starts Saturday when Dallas heads to California to take on the Galaxy.
For one, Ferreira needs to stake a claim to being part of the organization’s future. Second, he can also boost his resume for a future sale to Europe. Dallas is a team that is inclined to sell and the more Ferreira shows that 2020 was just a blip and that 2019 and 2021 are more reflective of his quality, the more interest and value he will generate.
Then there is the national team. With Ferreira surging and injuries hitting key attacking players, there could be an opening for him to get a call-up in November and join his teammate and friend Pepi.
“We want to see each other succeed,” Ferreira said of Pepi. “I’m happy for him that he gets the call-up. We know we need to ball out if we want to show people what we can do. We’re two young guys that have the same goal, and it’s to score, assist and win. And so at the end of the day, we’re going to do anything we can do to make that happen.”
“I think it’s a special bond because both of us are young and we’re looking at the same objectives,” Ferreira added. “I think showing what we can do together is something special. When we work together and the team works together, we can do great things.”
U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter has been complimentary of Ferreira over the past two years, and while Ferreira didn’t do enough to merit a call-up in 2020, this season has told a different story and could change the narrative of his career.