Football

‘It was my turn’ – How Jesus Ferreira went from the fringes of the USMNT to potential World Cup star

In an exclusive interview with GOAL, the 21-year-old opens up on facing his fears and frustrations with the aid of a close-knit support group.

“I want to show the little things,” Jesus Ferreira tells GOAL. “I just want to show the world that I’m a regular guy.”

Ferreira says it with conviction, and there is a very real possibility that he believes it. And, in some ways, he’s right.

Ferreira is a 21-year-old finding his way in the world. He has passions, like fashion and animals. He sees a psychologist, stays close to family and cares deeply for his friends, who also care deeply for him.

In many ways, it’s all so completely normal.

But what Ferreira is about to be a part of is anything but normal. Ferreira’s life is about to be turned upside down. World Cups tend to do that sort of thing.

The 21-year-old FC Dallas star was recently named to the U.S. men’s national team’s 26-man squad for Qatar 2022, and there’s a pretty good chance that he’ll be a key contributor.

In a squad loaded with young stars, Ferreira is perhaps the most mysterious to the outside world: a player that, unlike many of his superstar teammates, has not yet made the big move to Europe.

Even so, his role in attack may be just as important as those that play under these bright lights more frequently.

So, how does a 21-year-old striker cope with the idea that an entire country’s hopes and dreams could fall to his feet? How does a player with just 15 caps to his name prepare for something like the World Cup? How does a regular guy approach the world’s most spectacular sporting event?

Well, to start, he doesn’t do it alone; he does it with help.

“I think that any kid that plays soccer, their ultimate goal is to be able to represent a country on the biggest stage of soccer, which is a World Cup,” he says. “To be this close to something like that, I’m excited and I’m happy that I can say that I’m here now.

“But also, it’s important for my health, my mental health, that I have people around me that can keep encouraging me to keep moving forward and to keep doing the right things.

“I’m just so happy that I have a group of people that I trust and that have my back no matter what. There’s a reason I’m where I am now, and that’s because people believed in me.”

Earlier this year, Ferreira opened up about the internal struggles that he felt were always holding him back. Like many people, Ferreira has frequently battled a plethora of negative emotions: doubt, frustration, fear, anxiety.

Those emotions regularly took control, with Ferreira saying his mood was often directly correlated with what happened over 90 minutes each weekend.

Not content to simply continue that battle, Ferreira determined that Jesus, the player, would grow a whole lot if he took better care of Jesus, the person.

And that’s what he started doing. He relied on a support system that he knew had always been there. Few players will have a better one than Ferreira has at FC Dallas, having practically been raised at the club.

His father, David, is a club legend and a Copa America winner with Colombia. He, quite obviously, played a major part in helping his son grow into the player he is today, guiding him from youth player to homegrown star.

“I tried to do things that he saw but I just wasn’t at that level yet,” Ferreira recalls, “but I feel like that put me in a situation where maybe I do have to see that to get to the next level.

“Maybe I do have to run back and defend to get to the next level where I want to go. I think those little lessons were so important to me.”

Getty/GOAL

But one thing David Ferreira never did was make a World Cup squad, something his son has already accomplished at the age of 21.

And his father is far from the only person to have played a part in the construction of Ferreira’s career to this point. He is only one part of that vital support system, one that Ferreira says has grown in the last 12 months.

Earlier this year, Ferreira began working with a sports psychologist, whom he credits with helping him deal with the emotions that used to hold him back.

Through his work with his mental coach, Ferreira developed a roadmap for 2022. It began with MLS domination and, ultimately, culminated with where he is right now in Qatar.

Additionally, he started taking better care of his body, knowing that his mental well-being is directly influenced by his physical habits.

Over the last year, Ferreira has become more cognizant of his sleep patterns while focusing particularly on recovery. And it’s that focus that led to him partnering with Cheribundi, a sports nutrition company focused on aiding athlete wellness.

“I think it’s important to give light to that stuff,” he says. “I think that a lot of people just think that we have talent and can just perform on the field, but they don’t know how much effort goes on outside the field or how much we have to take care of our bodies.

“They don’t know how much we put into our bodies and our mental health or how that can affect us. Comments, bad games, all of that goes right into us.

“We all just want to put out there to show people that we’re humans and that we need to take care of our bodies. We need to see what we put into our bodies and we have to recover, so for me to partner with Cheribundi, it’s huge…

“It’s an honor for me to represent a company that supports [recovery], that can see that and says ‘Maybe we can create something that helps.’”

Now a more balanced person, mentally and physically, Ferreira suddenly became a more balanced player.

Just one year ago, Ferreira found himself on the fringes of the USMNT. But, by the time the World Cup roster dropped, there was absolutely no doubt that Ferreira’s name would be on it after a breakout season.

Entering 2022, Ferreira had just five caps to his name and 17 total MLS goals. He was a No.10 slowly evolving into a No.9 that could maybe someday be a part of this massive ongoing USMNT rebuild.

The thought in January was that an FC Dallas striker could very well start for the USMNT, but that wasn’t Ferreira; it was his now-former teammate Ricardo Pepi, who was left out of the WorldCupsquad despite a recent resurgence with Groningen.

You can add Pepi to the list of influences, Ferreira says. He credits his close friend with always being a valuable support system, with helping push him to heights he wasn’t sure he was ready to reach at the time.

“We had a crazy partnership,” Ferreira says. “I wanted to improve. I wanted to get better. I wanted to show people that I could do that too, that I can do it by myself.

“So, when he left, obviously I was excited for him that he was going to have this opportunity. It’s everyone’s dream to be able to play in Europe and play for a big club in Europe and he had that opportunity.

“It’s always exciting to see teammates succeed and so I was so excited for him and what he accomplished.

“But I knew that it was my turn. The club put me in a situation where I had to be that guy, I had to be the Pepi that he was last year. I had to score the goals and help the team win. I had to flip my switch and say, ‘Okay, I have to be that guy.’”

Consider that switch flipped. The Ferreira that was on the fringes last year is long gone.

In his place now stands an MLS superstar that will likely command a multi-million dollar transfer fee someday, just like Pepi did.

He scored 18 MLS goals in FC Dallas’ 2022 campaign and added five more for the national team, showing a blend of scoring touch, in-the-box instincts and attacking creativity that remains from his days as a No. 10.

Those instincts and creativity are what make Ferreira such an intriguing player. He’s fantastic at manipulating space and is an ideal fit for Berhalter’s USMNT system, one that doesn’t necessarily call for a traditional No.9.

Berhalter himself has pointed to how France won the World Cup with striker Olivier Giroud failing to score in Russia, although he obviously hopes to get at least a few from his No.9 in Qatar.

Even so, Ferreira’s job with the USMNT isn’t necessarily to score the goal the team needs, but rather to open up the possibility.

He’s a piece designed to complement players like Christian Pulisic, Tim Weah, Gio Reyna and Brenden Aaronson, to press and attack and run in a way that allows those players to flourish.

“We use [strikers] in a number of different ways,” Berhalter said in September. “One of them is to drop in and help us, give us an extra man in midfield.

“One of the ways is to run behind the backline. And then arriving in the penalty box, making good runs inside the penalty box.

“And then finally, starting our defensive pressure; we want to be a high-pressing team. We need forwards that understand the press, know how to use triggers to initiate the press and then actually execute the press well.

“When you look at a guy like Jesus, he checks all those boxes.”

Getty/GOAL

Over the next few weeks, Ferreira will get a chance to prove Berhalter right. He’ll get the chance to show off the results of all of the work that he continues to put into himself.

He’ll get the chance to prove that he truly belongs on the world’s stage and take things further than even he dreamed. He’ll get the chance to pay back all of those that supported him in helping him grow into the player, and man, he is now.

And, while everyone focuses on the player, Ferreira hopes to offer a glimpse into the person, too.

He sees himself as just that regular guy, after all, even as he approaches a moment that he knows will change his life forever.

“People don’t know me, know what I am, how I am and who I am,” he says. “I just want to let people know how I am.

“I’m constantly posting on social media, not just soccer stuff, but just my lifestyle. I’m a guy that loves fashion, that loves just to be out with friends and I’m a family guy.

“I just want to show the world that I’m a person. I’m a human being, a regular person, just like you.”

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