Do you have a moment to talk about Jesús?
Because, really, there’s not much else to talk about. The United States men’s national team beat 170th-ranked Grenada 5-0 on Friday. FIFA rankings are objectively bad, but in general, if you’re ranked 170 out of 211, that probably means you’re not expected to beat a team that’s going to the World Cup. There were also plenty of players that did things, both good and bad and concerningly and disinterestedly. Everything is heaped in enough salt to ward off ghosts in several different religions and traditions.
But Jesús Ferreira scored four goals. Given the discussion that’s revolved around him constantly this window, that’s the thing you just have to talk about.
Expected goals are not magic, expected goals do not predict the future (although they are predictive), and expected statistics are not fundamental metrics upon which the game is determined. It is a still-imperfect record of the kinds of chances a player or team gets. I think it’s helpful to consciously remind myself that xG isn’t necessarily something players do, even though that should be patently obvious by the intrinsic nature of xG. No player goes out and tries to “achieve xG.”
They want to score goals.
So when we say “this player has good xG,” that is just a way of saying that that player has been on the end of chances of a higher-quality, as some model determines it. And, according to everything we know about xG, attacking players tend to score pretty close to their underlying xG numbers. That’s just how math works in a system that, at its heart, is all about probability. It wouldn’t be a very good metric if players didn’t score anywhere near it, would it?
So what someone is saying when they say “Ferreira has good xG” is “Ferreira gets himself into better scoring situations at a probably better rate than other people on this team.” And you’re also saying “he will probably score more goals than those other players, although there’s no guarantee that will be the case.” Because, again, we’re talking about a stat that measures probabilities, and not necessarily in player ability. There is often a link between the two, however – and we caught a glimpse of that link in Austin on Friday.
Ferreira significantly lagged behind his teammates over the course of the last several months in terms of converting his xG into real, actual goals, despite having the best xG/90 on the team.
Then he played Grenada and the script flipped. He missed a couple chances that he could have scored against Grenada and he also scored one or two that were worse chances than the ones he missed. That’s the rub.
He may well have had some yips for the national team over the past several games, but he showed something that’s important on Friday night: if you’re getting into good scoring opportunities with good frequency, the goals are going to come.
Again, it’s Grenada. I don’t think Ferreira has won the starting job because he scored four goals playing forward, at home, against opposition that was so significantly out-matched. I want any forward that the U.S. national team may start to possess the ability to do that. I do think that this match showed, however, that Ferreira’s ability to get into good scoring opportunities isn’t for nothing. It will translate to goals.
You know what nearly no one really talks about very much when they talk about Ferreira? The fact that he’s still only 21. It feels like he’s been around for forever, doesn’t it? People treat him like a seasoned vet with no hope of improving his own play, when in actuality he’s several years younger than Haji Wright, he’s younger than Christian Pulisic, and he’s even younger than Josh Sargent and Tim Weah. If we’re also extending grace to a performance like Joe Scally’s against Uruguay (which I am), how can I beg for the replacement of a guy who, on the whole, has played very well in some of these same games, and is still only 21, which means he can quite reasonably continue to improve and add things to his game?
Ferreira has caught plenty of grief for whiffing his chances in previous games. To be fair, it really would’ve been nice for him to score a few of those. And even after scoring a handful of goals in one game, I’m still not certain that he’s the best choice for the USMNT at forward. But there are far, far worse fates than having a guy that’s really good at getting himself into scoring opportunities playing striker for my team.
OTHER STRAY USMNT THOUGHTS
I thought Luca de la Torre was pretty clearly the best player on the field for the U.S., despite Ferreira’s dominance on the scoresheet. He was driving the ball forward, notably in the turgid first half when the U.S. struggled to break down Grenada in meaningful ways for long stretches. You have to caveat it with “against Grenada” just like with Ferreira, but no other player on the field turned in the type of performance that LDLT turned in against Grenada, either.
You know who wasn’t good? Jordan Morris. I don’t think he was necessarily the worst player on the field at every moment, but he barely seemed to exist at times. When he did find himself on the end of a really good chance, and even more than that, an opportunity for a breakaway – the sorts of things that got us all excited about Morris in the first place – he made a real mess of it. It was not a night to remember against an overmatched opponent.
Malik Tillman had some rough moments, and there were also points where those rough moments were clearly eating at him. The best players in the world know exactly when they’ve made a mistake, and are most often their own harshest critics. But the mistakes led to a more listless Tillman on the field. It didn’t really matter, because the game was already over, but ideally you want to see more from a talented prospect. If I’m worried about one thing, it’s his mental resilience. Tillman has already shown how talented he is in this window with some nice moments against Morocco. But you don’t really want to see a person getting visibly frustrated and drift out of the game while his team is up several goals against Grenada.
Haji Wright didn’t play at all tonight, with Ferreira going the full 90. I expect Wright to start against El Salvador as a result, and I’m extremely curious to see how that goes, as he’ll presumably join the more “first team” version of this USMNT roster.