AUSTIN, Texas — For a team in dire need of a striker to emerge in the lead up to the World Cup, Jesus Ferreira‘s four-goal performance in the United States men’s national team’s 5-0 win against Grenada on Friday was certainly a welcome development.
It took some time to break the deadlock, but once Ferreira scored the opener in the 43rd minute, the floodgates opened as the team began its defense of the CONCACAF Nations League. His hat trick came in the span of 13 minutes — the third-fastest in team history — before he joined a group of just four other men to tally four in a game for the United States. No one has ever scored more.
Earlier in the day, U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter had sensed Ferreira had been feeling the pressure. The 21-year-old FC Dallas striker was held goalless in starts against Morocco and Uruguay, prolonging the team’s drought from its starting No. 9s. Berhalter reassured Ferreira that scoring goals is just a piece of how he was being evaluated and that his work in other areas hadn’t gone unnoticed.
“I think that anytime a player is under pressure, you look for how they respond,” Berhalter said. “That’s the important thing, and no matter what the level of the opponent is, the player still has to perform.”
While Ferreira responded well, the level of opponent does matter. Grenada is a tiny Caribbean nation of just more than 100,000 people. It’s ranked No. 170 in the world and features a roster of players in a different stratosphere as the U.S. The plethora of chances the U.S. created was wholly predictable and the gulf in talent prevents anything that took place from serving as some kind of determining factor down the line.
It would have been one thing to break out against Morocco or Uruguay, it’s something different when one of the opposing players (Leon Braveboy) is coming off a college soccer season at the University of Maine at Fort Kent.
“Walking away from the game, I think we’re gonna be obviously happy with the result that we expected to get with our quality, with our intensity, the way that we play at home,” said winger Paul Arriola, who scored the team’s other goal. “But definitely there was a lot of opportunities for us that — maybe it’s the heat, maybe it’s fatigue. I don’t know what it was, but definitely we can be better.”
The U.S. created 18 chances, according to TruMedia/Stats Perform data, and finished with 4.63 xG to Grenada’s 0.09. In the rare cases when Grenada pushed the ball into the attacking third, it never posed a real threat on goal, giving Matt Turner one of the most effortless clean sheets he’ll ever have.
The lopsided victory was the final game the U.S. will play on home soil before the Qatar World Cup begins in November. Even though in advance of the game Berhalter was unwilling to downplay its importance relative to the friendlies against Morocco and Uruguay, his starting XI showed where the priorities were this window. Stars Christian Pulisic and Tyler Adams didn’t dress and a heavily rotated lineup included multiple players projected to be on the World Cup roster bubble.
Even though Ferreira’s goals will garner the bulk of the attention, it was the play of Luca de la Torre that had the most impact on the game. His ability to glide forward and play his teammates into space was on display all game.
“He’s been amazing since he’s been with the national team, really,” Arriola said. “I pretty much said [my goal] was his goal. I mean, the guy makes an amazing run.
“He did that in the first half a couple times and he gets going and it’s funny because he looks like he’s not running and he is just sprinting by everybody.”
Berhalter has opted to rely more on a double pivot in central midfield this window after playing almost exclusively with a single defensive midfielder — mostly Adams — in qualifying. It’s a role De la Torre said he enjoys.
“I think I’m comfortable doing either job,” he said. “I like to have the freedom to kind of see what the other team is doing and decide for myself whether to be higher or lower.”
The U.S. now turns its attention to El Salvador, where it will travel to ahead of a second Nations League game Tuesday — the final tuneup of the summer. After that, the team will have just two September friendlies before the World Cup kicks off.