Monday, April 22, 2024 Apr 22, 2024
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Jesus Ferreira Is Taking the Long Way

The World Cup didn't go as planned. The move to Europe has yet to materialize. But the 22-year-old insists he's content to pick up where he left off at FC Dallas.
Jesus Ferreira is still in Frisco for a little while longer. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

When Jesus Ferreira heard the first notes of the Star Spangled Banner play as he prepared to start a World Cup game, he felt like he was moving through a simulator. He had dreamed of the day so many times, worked so hard to achieve it, and yet even for the talented son of a former Major League Soccer MVP, the odds were against him. Getting ready for a knockout game, one of 11 starters representing a country of 330 million people, simply didn’t feel real.

To make it to the FIFA Men’s World Cup, you first have to be in a country that qualifies for the finals, which automatically disqualifies most of the world’s aspiring soccer players. From there, you must become one of your country’s best 26 players of the world’s most popular sport. Factoring in positional groups, you have to be one of the best six players at your spot.

And yet here he stood, a native Colombian who couldn’t even play for the Stars and Stripes until he was granted U.S. citizenship as a teenager after growing up in North Texas. He was on the precipice of one of his wildest soccer dreams. It all had to come together at the right time.

And it did. 

Except, it didn’t.

“It’s a dream come true,” Ferreira tells StrongSide, “but obviously not the way that I planned it or I dreamt it.”

Ferreira played in the World Cup, achieving what so many millions never will. But after entering the tournament as the popular favorite to be the United States’ starting striker, he exited having played only 45 minutes in an aggravating first half against the Netherlands. The dream didn’t quite live up to the expectation.

Ferreira's World Cup experience was one to forget. Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports

All throughout the 2022 MLS season, when Ferreira tied FCD’s record for goals in a season, things were setting up for him to start for the U.S. National Men’s Team at striker and, ideally, score goals at the World Cup. That is, if he could hold off former FCD teammate Ricardo Pepi, whom Ferreira had spent the previous year setting up for goals instead of scoring his own. That scoring barrage saw Pepi depart for Germany, home to one of the world’s premier soccer leagues, for a club-record fee

A big showing in Qatar figured to put Ferreira in contention for a similar move. It’s a jump Ferreira’s father, David, who was named MLS MVP in 2010 while playing for FC Dallas, never made despite his own success in both the United States and Colombia. But if you stand out at a World Cup after a season of domestic success, and if you’re as dynamic of an attacking player as Jesus Ferreira is, a big team is sure to make an offer.

All the goals he was supposed to score were left unkicked. The big move to a top European club never came. Instead, Ferreira returned from Qatar with just an Instagram inbox full of hate from frustrated fans and critiques from the soccer media. “He was as invisible as you could possibly be and every time he touched the ball, I think it was close to a turnover,” ex-U.S. international turned YouTube personality and retired USMNT member Jimmy Conrad lamented. The Daily Mail gave him the worst rating of any player on the field, including “Ferreira flops” in a typically tabloid headline.

The social media posts were generally more acerbic and more pointed.

“We’re all humans. We all see social media and the comments, and obviously it gets to us as players,” Ferreira says. “I’m starting to realize that each year I play there’s going to be more comments, more hate. So for me, it’s knowing how to block that off, proving them wrong, and just playing my game.”

The question is where that game ultimately takes him.

Ferreira’s career path was never much of a question. Opting to stay in North Texas with his mother and siblings even as his dad returned to play in Colombia, he quickly emerged as a jewel in FCD’s treasure trove of young players. As the club’s youth operation grew in prominence, it felt preordained for Ferreira, the son of an FC Dallas hero, to eventually join the likes of Pepi, Weston McKennie, Bryan Reynolds, and Reggie Cannon as high-priced overseas exports. He’s never shied away from the idea, either; after signing a contract extension before the 2022 campaign, Ferreira said his goal was to jump to one of Europe’s top leagues after winning trophies with FC Dallas. 

Even at the youth levels, though, coaches were at times unsure what to do with Ferreira’s combination of creativity, a nose for goal, and deceptive quickness and acceleration in a 5-foot-8 frame. Was he a pure playmaker? A false nine? 

Last year seemed to bring an answer. With Pepi playing in Europe and a new FCD coach running things in 2022, Ferreira had a breakout season as a pure striker, disproving skeptics who worried he was too small for the role.

Then the World Cup happened.

Ferreira must wait three more years for redemption on soccer’s grandest stage. For the time being, there’s not much left for him to do other than keep starring for FCD and continue to attract attention from the U.S. setup. So it’s not too surprising to see this season play out a lot like last season did. The 22-year-old has six goals in 12 matches, including Saturday’s dramatic game winner in a playoff rematch with Austin FC, and he remains the fulcrum of the FCD attack. He again played with the U.S. national team in a friendly match in April, scoring against Mexico in a preparation match for important regional tournaments this summer.

It may be a surprise to see Ferriera back on the field in Frisco, but the 2022 World Cup is by no means the last grand stage Ferreira could find himself on. With the 2026 edition of the competition taking place in the United States and Ferreira entering his prime years as a player after that tournament, he might be able to attend to his unfinished World Cup business.

If Ferreira is disappointed to still be in Frisco, picking up right where he left off, he doesn’t show it. He is well aware that playing well with FCD week in, week out is the path back to singing the anthem in 2026.  

“If I do good at the club level, my chances to represent the national team are going to be better,” Ferreira says. “I’m going to do everything possible to be in that position, and it starts here at FC Dallas.”

That may be the only way for him to feel like he’s achieved that World Cup dream. Because, as Herulez Gomez, a veteran of the 2010 U.S. World Cup team who now works as a commentator for ESPN, says, Ferreira is not wired to accept more of the same for very long.

“I guarantee you he’s got a big ‘What if?’ going through his mind, talking about the World Cup, talking about national team,” Gomez says. “I think Jesus is a kid where, if it ended today, he wouldn’t be content with how things have gone.

“I think he wants more. I would not be content. I think Europe could be in the future, and there could be a redemption story to his World Cup.”

But it also doesn’t feel like Ferreira has outgrown FC Dallas or accomplished everything he can in Frisco. While Ferreira is scoring goals, there’s still a feeling he could become an even better finisher. And though his coaches ask him to move around the field more than a traditional player in his position, even they’ll agree with fan complaints that he sometimes gets too close to his own defense in an effort to find the ball and make something spectacular happen. Plus, there’s still the conspicuous lack of silverware in Frisco during his tenure (and predating it).

Jesus Ferreira still has room for growth at FC Dallas. Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

“I think he has a lot of potential, and we’ve got to demand more from him because he can achieve great things and be a more complete and decisive player,” FCD manager Nico Estévez says. “He’s got the qualities. He’s on the right path, and he’s a young player. You have to be patient. We’re working to get the best from him.”

That journey is a scrutinized one. Debate swirls around him, whether the subject is Europe (to go or to stay?), the World Cup (what’s worth celebrating?), even where he should play (striker or closer toward the midfield?).

Gomez believes Ferreira is well aware that he’s “a lightning rod” for an American fan culture much more demanding than anything Gomez and his teammates experienced in MLS. Given the sport’s spike in popularity, the better comparison might be the scrutiny and pressure Gomez experienced throughout six seasons in Mexico’s top division, where the sport was a national passion decades prior to Major League Soccer’s arrival in the United States. 

“The first time you’re the topic of debate, the first time you’re a trending topic, it’s daunting,” Gomez says. “It’s a mental battle. You’re playing against 11 players trying to make sure you don’t win—and yourself. That’s a difficult thing. The way Jesus deals with this, confronts it, will define him.”

It’s still early, but so far, Ferreira wants to be defined as a player who gets back at it, who tries to do his talking on the field, who has every intention of reaching that full potential Estévez and the rest of the coaching staff sees in him. He has the ability to score or to create for a teammate, the on-field vision to get into the right spaces at the right moments, and he continues to mature on and off the field. He has room to improve.

If he does, Europe should beckon after all. Perhaps after that, another, better run in the World Cup. Until then, Ferreira will have to live with the disappointment in his first go-round—which, despite everything, he still considers a positive experience.

“At the end of the day, I was able to step onto the field at a World Cup,” Ferreira says. “That’s one of the dreams I had as a kid. I’m always happy with that opportunity and never look at it as a negative.

“It wasn’t negative at all. It was me gaining my spot and working to get minutes in a World Cup game.”

That really happened, in real life. No simulation. It may happen again, too, and if it does, Ferreira will reflect on these months of post-tournament purgatory as what he needed to bring more of his dreams into reality. He’s not where he wants to be. Not yet. But right now, he might be exactly where he needs to be.

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