The World Cup is fast approaching.
The United States men’s national team kicked off preparations for the international tournament during the June window, hosting Morocco and Uruguay before turning to the Concacaf Nations League. Head coach Gregg Berhalter experimented with lineups, keeping players alert that their spot on the World Cup roster is not guaranteed.
While Ricardo Pepi originally looked to be the USMNT’s solution for the number 9 role, he now failed to receive a call up as Berhalter claimed to be “resting” the player. FC Dallas figure Jesus Ferreira has since emerged as the frontrunner, connecting with Christian Pulisic and Tim Weah up top during the friendlies in a bid to cement his role.
But after failing to find the back of the net in two consecutive games, concerns persist.
“It was more of the finishing attacks phase of the game that we struggled in. We got the ball into really good positions and then just didn’t take advantage of that,” said Berhalter after the Uruguay draw.
“Overall, the strikers, it’s a difficult game. Difficult game against big, strong center backs, aggressive center backs. I think there were moments – Jesus had another really good chance – there were moments, and we came up a little bit short. But we’ll keep working with these guys.”
Ferreira echoed the coach’s statements on Thursday ahead of the match against Granada, emphasizing the additional role of a No. 9.
“Yeah, I mean, the main focus as a 9 is to score goals. But a lot of people have to see that the 9 can also assist, and can build out and can help out the build [up]. So I think for my job is to facilitate other players to be able to score and to help the other players be in a position to score goals also. As the connection and chemistry is getting there, every practice we get better and better.
“I enjoy playing with these guys and I know that every time I can turn, there’s runners in behind. When I play with Brenden [Aaronson], I know that he can always play those balls in behind, so there’s always an adaptation that I have to make as a 9, to see if I’m playing with Tim – I know that he’s always going to be running behind, or if I play with Brenden or Christian, that I know that they’re always going to come inside and play the ball. So I have to adapt.”
As Ferreira pointed out, it might just be a matter of adjusting. After Pepi departed FC Dallas for FC Augsburg, Ferreira was forced to fill in. While he usually opts to play as false 9, he has embraced the more traditional responsibilities of the role and thrived. He’s currently tied for the lead in the MLS Golden Boot race with nine goals so far this season.
Until he can translate his abilities to international football, his involvement remains at risk. But Ferreira is not stressing.
“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. 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,” Ferreira concluded.
“It’s about learning how to do your one-twos, which is, my one-twos are my first touch runs in behind, so then I can get my final product, which is a three, which is the goal. 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.”
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