Full question submitted by Ryan C.: Are we, collectively as a USMNT fanbase, underrating how great Jesus Ferreira has been this season? His U.S. performances have been the most convincing of the strikers (although his games have often come against weaker opponents at home, to be fair). But if you combine those performances with his breakout year in Dallas, he sure seems like the USMNT’s No. 9 to me.
Hey, thanks for the question Ryan! I think there are a lot of folks out there who are underrating Jesus Ferreira as a player right now for whatever reason. That said, I think there are a lot of folks out there who are justifiably excited about what Ferreira could do for the United States in this upcoming June window and beyond.
I’m in that second bucket.
In MLS this season, Ferreira has been one of the absolute best attacking players in the league. He’s regularly getting into high-value scoring positions and he impacts the game by dropping back into midfield, too. According to FBref, Ferreira is fifth among all MLS players with at least 500 minutes in non-penalty expected goals plus expected assists per 90 minutes.
That means he’s adding value with his movement/shooting and with his passing.
If you’ve watched Ferreira with Dallas or with the U.S. men’s national team, I’m guessing you’re nodding your head right now. Yeah, that sounds about right. With FC Dallas, Ferreira is tied for the lead in the MLS golden boot race with nine goals. He’s a threat in the attack.
I know this shot basically served as Ferreira’s audition for the Patriots’ kicker job, but man, I still can’t get this clip of him from Dallas’ game against New England earlier this season out of my head. It’s just such a good example of why Gregg Berhalter likes him as a player.
And it’s not just that Ferreira impacts the game when his team has the ball. He’s also one of the most aggressive pressers in all of MLS. Per Second Spectrum, Ferreira averages the second most pressures in the final third per 90 among players with at least 500 minutes in 2022.
With the national team, Ferreira’s pressing and his work in possession both come in handy. I like his fit as the No. 9 in Berhalter’s 4-3-3 precisely because of those things.
Now, it’s important to note that Ferreira’s tendency to drop into midfield does pose some challenges for the United States. When he drops, it’s critical that at least one winger (or another player, but usually a winger) makes a run in behind to stretch the opposition’s defensive shape and create space between the lines. Paul Arriola has been doing a ton of that vertical running for FC Dallas this year and Tim Weah tends to do that vertical running for the national team.
Still, I think the U.S. needs a bit more of that directness to balance the attack when Ferreira’s in the lineup. There’s a reason why Berhalter continues to mention “verticality” in his press conferences.
It’s also important to acknowledge (as Ryan does) that Ferreira’s only two starts in World Cup qualifying both came at home against weak teams: El Salvador and Panama. Ferreira largely looked good in those games, but he wasn’t tested as much as some of the other No. 9s in the pool were throughout qualifying.
I don’t know if we’ll walk away from the June window thinking “man, it looks like Jesus Ferreira has solved the USMNT’s whole striker problem”. But I do think he has the best chance of any No. 9 in the U.S. player pool at being on Berhalter’s World Cup roster and I think his chances of fixing the striker problem are probably higher than anyone else in the pool.