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Jesus Ferreira Puts Forth His Case in USMNT’s World Cup Forward Search

There is the clear caveat that scoring vs. Grenada doesn’t mean it’ll translate against the world’s finest, but a four-goal showing from a player taking his chance can’t be ignored.

This already was just about the least climactic sendoff possible, coming more than five months before the World Cup and against a team ranked 170th on the planet. Add a heat index that hovered around 97 degrees at kickoff—Austin, Texas, was warmer Friday night than it’s supposed to be in Qatar this November—and you had the makings of a match that would test just about anyone’s focus, fitness and resolve.

Fortunately for the American men, Jesús Ferreira has spent a lot of his life in Texas. As uncomfortable as U.S. strikers have looked in recent months, and as much pressure as Ferreira could have felt as November nears, neither the heat nor the (scoring) drought seemed to weigh on the 21-year-old. After a languid 40-plus minutes, Ferreira brought the evening—and his World Cup prospects—to life with three goals in 13 minutes on either side of intermission, followed by a late fourth.

As expected, the U.S. eased past overmatched Grenada, 5-0, in its Concacaf Nations League opener at Q2 Stadium. This biennial tournament, designed to create more competitive opportunities for the region’s smaller countries, comes at an awkward time for the bigger ones. After this month’s friendlies against Morocco and Uruguay, the Americans had just four matches remaining before leaving for Qatar: the game against Grenada, next Tuesday’s Nations League tilt at El Salvador and then two September exhibitions in Europe.

Jesus Ferreira scores four goals for the USMNT vs. Grenada

Ferreira celebrates one of his four goals vs. Grenada for the USMNT.

U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter couldn't do anything about the schedule or the quality of the opponent. Grenada wasn’t going to help his team get ready for World Cup foes Wales, England or Iran. The Spice Boys, who have an awesome nickname but just one victory in more than two years, started a side featuring four USL Championship players, four men from the fifth-through-seventh divisions in England, a member of Queen’s Park Rangers’ youth academy and two players from the island nation’s semi-pro league.

The competition would have to come from within.

“We know that the game is going to be about our mindset, our intensity, what we're bringing to this game,” Berhalter said during the build-up. “So if you talk about evaluation, this is a really easy game, because we're evaluating our mentality. We're evaluating our intensity.”

Berhalter deployed a team full of players hoping to make a statement. World Cup locks Christian Pulisic and Tyler Adams didn’t even dress, while Yunus Musah, Walker Zimmerman, Tim Weah and Brenden Aaronson were on the bench. Weston McKennie, who’s continuing his return from a broken foot, started and played a half.

Otherwise, Friday night was about Ferreira, his FC Dallas teammate Paul Arriola, Plano native (it’s near Dallas) Kellyn Acosta and Luca de la Torre, who has no connection to Texas but who may have taken a step toward the World Cup roster there. All four were outstanding—not because they were better than the Grenadians, but because they played with intensity, enterprise and verve.

Jesus Ferreira shoots for the USMNT vs. Grenada

Ferreira became just the fifth U.S. men’s national team player to ever score four goals in a single game.

Ferreira started between Jordan Morris and Arriola and, early on, showed the same sort of smart running and ability to find the ball in dangerous spots that he displayed in previous U.S. appearances. It’s been a rough run for American strikers. Since Ricardo Pepi seemed to emerge as the answer with two goals in a World Cup qualifier against Jamaica last fall, U.S. No. 9s had scored just one non-penalty goal in 13 games (Ferreira in March’s 5-1 rout of Panama). Berhalter focused on Ferreira and debutant Haji Wright this month, leaving behind the likes of Pepi, Jordan Pefok, Josh Sargent and Gyasi Zardes.

Ferreira had a good chance in the 33rd minute against Grenada thanks to a beautiful through ball from Acosta, but his first touch took him too wide to get a decent shot off. It was another indication that he reads the game and his teammates well, and he said this week that focusing on that foundation eventually would pay off.

“As a forward, it’s important to score goals—to keep your mindset right. For me, I think I have a good group of people around me that help me stay focused, and know that the goals will come,” he said. “I know that right now, I’m going through a little struggle. But it's something that if I stay focused and I keep working, things are going to bounce my way.

“It’s about learning how to do your one-twos. My one-twos are my first touch and runs in behind, so then I can get my final product—which is a three—which is the goal,” he added. “So it's always just focusing on my ones and twos, so then I can play a good game and have a good game. And then I know that the final product will come.”

He was getting into position. He was getting shots off. And then finally, in the 43rd minute, there was the end product. The energetic Arriola, who was recently named MLS’s player of the month for May, dribbled through the right channel and hit a cross that deflected toward Ferreira. The striker was ready and took a couple quick touches before sliding the ball inside the left post.

Jesus Ferreira and Paul Arriola scored all of the USMNT’s goals vs. Grenada

FC Dallas teammates Arriola and Ferreira combined to score all of the U.S.’s goals vs. Grenada.

The seal was broken. Nine minutes after halftime, Ferreira doubled the U.S. lead after running onto another nice service from Arriola. Grenada had no answer for Arriola’s relentlessness, Acosta’s vision and longer passing or de la Torre’s ability to create and cause problems off the dribble. In the 56th minute, Ferreira completed his hat trick with a training-ground one-timer off an Acosta corner kick.

Arriola scored a deserved goal in the 62nd minute on an assist from de la Torre, and Ferreira notched his fourth off a nice run and deft touch from Aaronson, who had entered a few minutes earlier. Ferreira became just the fifth American man to score four goals in a game, and the first since the legendary Landon Donovan struck four times in a 5–0 Gold Cup rout of Cuba in 2003.

Goals against Grenada don’t mean a player is World Cup-ready. But a striker won’t perform on that stage without confidence, and Ferreira can now put himself in frame for the September friendlies with a whole lot more of it. There are still five months to go, but Berhalter can feel good about the fact that several players accepted his challenge and performed with big-game intensity—despite the low-stakes surroundings.

“Nothing changes regardless of the opponent,” Arriola said presciently this week. “We still have the same mentality. We’re still going to go out and try and execute what we’re asked to do on the field.”

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