Is Jesus Ferreira the answer to the USMNT’s search for a No. 9? (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Not unlike the great Diogenes, who searched for an honest man in ancient Greece, U.S. men’s national team head coach Gregg Berhalter has an ongoing search for a No. 9.
At this juncture, it doesn’t matter who.
Every time a striker scores a goal for the national side, media and fans wonder if this will be the next great scoring hope.
Then he fails to finish in a game or two and we go right back to the starting line.
Today’s new USMNT hope is Jesus Ferreira, who earned MLS player of the week after connecting for his first career hat-trick for FC Dallas in its 4-1 home win past the Portland Timbers.
Ferreira has been mentioned before, included in a group that has Ricardo Pepi and Jordan Pefok, who have done some damage of their own, mostly at the club level.
Like it or not, Ferreira is the man of the moment as the USA begins its final World Cup qualifying run at Mexico on Thursday night.
The 21-year-old Ferreira has one backer in USMNT and FC Dallas teammate Paul Arriola.
“I’ll say it again, “Jesus is a very versatile player,” the veteran midfielder said during a Zoom media session on Monday. “He finds himself in so many positions during games. He can help the team in so many different ways, offensively, defensively.
“Jesus, the first few games he wasn’t a part of any goals. But he continued to work. He continued to keep his head down. He continued to stay humble. And then he goes on and scores three goals in somewhat of 10 minutes. You appreciate a guy like that to be your teammate, someone who’s going to continue to continually work. When he gets his opportunities, he’s going to put them away. He’s been in great form. Hopefully that that’ll carry over for us going into these games.”
Ferreira has yet to score in a qualifier. He has tallied twice in seven matches, both times in a 7-0 demolition of Trinidad & Tobago in Orlando, Fla. Jan. 31, 2021. Exploria Stadium is the site of Sunday’s qualifier against Panama.
The USA soccer world got excited when Pepi scored three times in two qualifiers last year. He snapped a 1-1 deadlock in the 75th minute to spark the Americans to a 4-1 win in Honduras on Sept. 8. He added two more goals – on each side of halftime – in a 2-0 victory over Jamaica on Oct. 7.
Oh, maybe he’s the one, team supporters and media hoped.
Pepi, 19, however, hasn’t scored for the USMNT since then and he hasn’t been exactly setting the Bundesliga on fire since joining Augsburg. He hasn’t found the net in six appearances. Remember, Pepi’s young and there is much more room for growth in the long run. Of course, in the short run, the U.S. needs goals in its next three matches to reach the Qatar later this year (beyond Mexico and Panama, there’s another qualifier at Costa Rica on March 30).
Pefok, who is in his prime at 25, has been devastating for Young Boys in the Swiss Super League. He has 17 league goals and 22 across all club competitions. He has tallied once in eight USMNT appearances, the lone goal in a 1-0 triumph over Honduras in the Concacaf Nations League semifinals last June 3.
We all have learned that club success does not always translate well into international glory.
At this stage of the Concacaf Octagonal, filling the net many times isn’t a necessity. Scoring the odd goal or at a key moment in a match will suffice, given the thin line between victory and defeat and with that much on the line – a World Cup berth.
Is Ferriera, Pepi or Pefok the answer?
Only time will tell.
Right now, Berhalter probably doesn’t care who will find the net, as long as someone does.
But the player in the No. 9 role scoring a goal will make it that much sweeter for the team, its supporters and media.