He was one of the kids in Qatar, third-youngest on the World Cup's second-youngest roster with a role to match, but that was way back at the end of 2022, an eternity ago, it seems, in these tumultuous times for American soccer.
Jesus Ferreira arrived for the Yanks' first camp of the new cycle as a veteran presence, one of five players from the World Cup squad called in by acting head coach Anthony Hudson to lead a group heavy on youngsters getting their first taste of the senior side. Appropriately, he capped a briefer-than-normal January camp with a most veteran performance.
Ferreira, who turned 22 on Christmas Eve, was the Americans' chief catalyst in a sloppy, often entertaining 0-0 draw Sunday afternoon with Colombia — his native land — at sold out Dignity Health Sports Park, author (or co-) of his team's three most dangerous chances, none of them reaching fruition in a match marked by unrealized opportunity.
It was the details in Ferreira's game — his movement, his passing, his defensive effort, his work in opening space, in finding the ball, in sniffing out chances in a clash that offered too few — that most impressed, to the surprise of nobody in the U.S. camp.
“We all see and appreciate his intelligence, his game intelligence,” said Hudson, who has been given command of the team until Gregg Berhalter is extended or another coach is hired later this year. “He's a player that really understands how we want to play, and he's a good player.”
Whether the FC Dallas standout is the center forward the U.S. is seeking, following the struggles up front in Qatar, will be determined over the next few years. There are plenty of candidates, including his World Cup teammates Josh Sargent and Haji Wright — all three were given starts — as well as Jordan Pefok, Ricardo Pepi, Daryl Dike, maybe Falorin Balogun, plus Brandon Vazquez, a standout in this camp who's also eligible for Mexico. Others certainly will emerge.
“For me, it's just keep showing the coaches what I can do and what I'm best at,” Ferreira said after the match. “The coaches will notice my work, that I'm a guy that's going to keep running no matter what and press [opposing defenses]. Pressing is one of my key things, so keep showing and keep working to [tell] coaches that I want to be here and want to represent the country.”
At what is he best? He's a finisher, for sure, has “a knack for goal,” says Kellyn Acosta, Sunday's U.S. captain, who was with FC Dallas when Ferreira emerged from its academy at 15. He scored 18 goals en route to MLS Best XI and MLS Young Player of the Year honors last season and has 36 in the past four seasons.
He's also a provider, with 22 assists in that span — and he produced the U.S.'s finest moment against the Colombians, a beautiful, 32nd-minute through ball behind defender Andres Llinas that Matthew Hoppe hit meekly to goalkeeper Alvaro Montero.
“That's the kind of 9 I am,” said Ferreira, who made his 17th international appearance. “I'm a 9 that can come down and create, not a target 9. Trying to help out my teammates and open space and create for them. That kind of what I'm good at.”
Acosta, a key figure in Los Angeles FC's Supporters' Shield/MLS Cup double and another of the Qatar veterans, came through FC Dallas academy at the same time as Ferreira but is nearly five and a half years older.
“He's a guy I've known since he was, I don't know, 16?” Acosta said. “To see him continue to progress, to continue to grow in his role at FC Dallas ... and I see him just full of confidence, ready and eager to improve. He's a guy who absorbs a lot of information.
“He's a smart player. I think a lot of the stuff that he does goes unnoticed, and I'm glad [that's being mentioned], because he does a lot of things during the game, where his movements, his qualities really unbalance opposing teams. ... He's doing a great job of finding the game, finding his moments, playing through balls, coming underneath, finding the ball, finding his space.”
Ferreira's movement set up the second good U.S. chance, from an Acosta corner kick about 10 minutes into the second half. He was shadowing the goalkeeper, then looped around him to the near post as the ball was delivered, pulling with him defender Frank Fabra — Colombia's most internationally experienced player on the field — and leaving a gap for Walker Zimmerman, whose off-balance header soared over the crossbar.
Five minutes later, shortly before exiting for Vazquez, Ferreira had his chance, taking a feed from Paul Arriola above the box on the right, then streaking toward the penalty spot. Llinas and Jorman Campuzano sandwiched him, and Campuzano poked the ball away.
“For me and Paul, we're always looking for that connection and those 1-2s,” Ferreira said. “He gave me a perfect ball. I took my touch, and it kind of got under me, and so I wanted to take an extra touch, and the guy behind me came over [and got the ball]. It's something I would've wanted to take back and just get a better touch and shoot.”
Hudson noted that Ferreira, like nearly everyone else in camp, is in start-of-preseason form.
“He's still very young ... and physically it's still preseason for him,” Hudson said. “Tonight we saw some really good signs from him. We also know he needs to get a few more games under his belt and start the season strong.”
Regardless of circumstances, it was a most memorable 2023 opener for Ferreira, who was born in Santa Marta, Colombia, and came the United States when his father — 2010 MLS MVP David Ferreira, who was capped 39 times and won a Copa America title with Colombia — joined FC Dallas in 2009.
“It means everything [to play against Colombia],” said Ferreira, the 35th U.S. and third Colombian-born U.S. player to play against his native country. “Something special. Something that I didn't think was going to come any time soon. It's always awesome.
“I went out there just enjoying the moment, just being present, and today I had to represent the U.S. and defend the colors, but Colombia's always in my heart, and so I went out there and showed what it means, and I think I did a good job showing the fans that I'm here to represent the U.S. and nothing else matters.”
In another world, he might have been going up against the U.S.
“One hundred percent, it was tough [to make a decision where to commit],” Ferreira said. “It was something I had to think over a lot of times and discuss with my family. My dad represented Colombia, and that's something I wanted to do — represent Colombia — and they didn't give me a chance, they didn't open my doors, and we've got to keep moving on, you know? We keep working and the U.S. received me with open arms, and I'm happy they did, and I'm just proud to be able to represent the U.S. badge.”
His family, he said, “were telling me [to do] what makes me happy, and representing the U.S. is what makes me happy.”
And nothing is better than representing the U.S. at a World Cup, even if Ferreira didn't see much time. He watched from the bench during the Yanks' group-stage games at the World Cup, then got a start in the round-of-16 defeat to the Netherlands, departing at halftime after receiving little service.
“My World Cup experience was amazing,” he said before Sunday's game. “I think that every kid's dream is to make it to a World Cup, no matter what role you play. I was just happy and excited to be part of the U.S. and especially represent my country at a World Cup.”
It made him a veteran in this camp, alongside Acosta, Zimmerman, Aaron Long and Sean Johnson, plus Arriola, who just missed the cut. Ferreira took the role seriously.
“I think I helped the new guys,” he said when asked what he'd accomplished in Southern California. “I think that's the most important thing, is adapting and helping the new guys to acclimate and enjoy this. This is the most important, to be able to enjoy and knowing that there's new faces [learning] a new system, a new way to play. It's important for them to adapt very fast, knowing that we didn't have a lot of time to prepare.”
Top photo: John Dorton/ISI Photos
I don't see JF as a traditional 9 in our 4-3-3, as he's not prolific enough. More a support striker in a 4-4-2 or maybe 4-1-4-1. Or false 9?
I haven't seen the game yet (vaca) but reading this review why are we singing the praises of s guy who "almost" scored?? "Almost" doesn't count. Strikers have to score. Stop making excuse for these guys.
"He's still very young ... and physically it's still preseason for him ..."
Singing the praises of an MLS forward who scored 36 goals in 4 years. LOL. Have you seen the defending in MLS? The defenses are slack even inside the penalty area. Success in MLS doesn't predict success in international play.
He is young and not fully developed yet, but staying in MLS isn't going to make him a better international forward.
He's young and not fully developed......And who is going to develop him :)
Can't beleive this guy is still getting run for the national team. Every #9 at the World Cup was a failure. They should all be discarded. As to this particular game, Paxton Aaronson had better looks than Fereira. I understand the job of journalists at this website is to pump up the national team, but we scored one goal in two home friendlies. Please.