The United States Men’s National Team began their Concacaf Nations League defense in style with a 5-0 thrashing of Grenada in Austin on Friday.
After friendlies against World Cup-bound Morocco and Uruguay, the USMNT faced a completely different sort of challenge against a Grenada team ranked 170th in the world and on a nine-game winless run that included defeats to the likes of Andorra, Montserrat, and Antigua & Barbuda.
Naturally, Gregg Berhalter’s side dominated proceedings but after a half of Grenada pulling out all the stops to frustrate their hosts, it took until the 43rd minute for the US to open the scoring, with Jesus Ferreira firing home at the far post from a deflected Paul Arriola cross.
It would be that FC Dallas duo who defined the second half, with Ferreira completing his hat-trick with quickfire goals shortly before halftime. His second of the night finished a clinical USMNT breakaway having been played through by Arriola, while his third was a powerful strike from a smart corner by LAFC midfielder Kellyn Acosta.
Arriola then got in on the goalscoring action himself, finishing off another counter-attack with a finish from a tight angle, before Ferreira grabbed his fourth of the night in the 78th minute, becoming just the fifth USMNT player to achieve the feat in a single match.
Though for a while it looked like Grenada might be able to hold the USMNT to a low scoreline, it wasn’t to be. With a 67% share of possession, and 10 of their 25 shots on target – compared to 0/3 for Grenada – the Stars and Stripes were full value for the victory and scoreline.
In the build-up to Friday’s match, there had been rigorous debate regarding Ferreira’s ability to lead the line for the United States. The Dallas striker is in red-hot form right now, leading the MLS Golden Boot race with nine goals, perfectly replacing the outgoing Ricardo Pepi.
But at international level, he entered this game on a run of just one goal in his last nine senior appearances and none in his last three. Even Ferreira himself has admitted recently that he must refine his goalscoring instincts to hold down the No.9 spot, despite defending his ability to bring others into play.
On Friday, the floodgates opened.
In the space of 35 minutes either side of half-time, Ferreira had found the net four times, more than doubling his international tally so far. In fact, Ferreira attempted 12 shots on the night, hitting target with seven of them, and still managed to generate 0.61 Expected Assists, proving he can balance the two aspects of his role.
Now, of course, a huge caveat must be given in terms of the quality of opposition. With the utmost respect, Grenada are nowhere near the level of quality the USMNT can expect to face in Qatar, ranked 170th and fielding a team featuring several amateurs and academy players.
But if nothing else, Ferreira’s quartet of goals featured a couple of eye-catching finishes that would have caught out some very established defenders and goalkeepers.
You can only beat what’s in front of you and Ferreira did just that.
Speaking after Friday’s match, Berhalter revealed he’d moved to take some pressure off Ferreira prior to kick-off, reassuring the striker that his job is about more than just scoring goals.
Still, it was clear the 21-year-old was feeling the heat, so Berhalter was naturally pleased with his clinical performance – and in no small way impressed by the manner of some of his goals.
“Any time a player is under pressure, you look for how they respond. And that’s the important thing. And no matter what the level of the opponent is, the player still has to perform,” said Berhalter. “Jesus, I sensed he was under pressure. I talked to him this afternoon, and I told him that we don’t judge him just based on goals.
“I’ve said that to you all along, he does a lot of other stuff that really helps this group be successful. And so I just said, ‘Go out there and relax and play your game.’ And he had four goals, and it’s great for him, I’m happy for him. And those goals matter, and the finishes that he had were excellent. Against any opponent, you look for the quality of the strikes, and where he’s putting the ball, the placement of the ball, and he had some good goals today.”
Ferreira himself admitted he’d been battling with some mentality issues, but praised the support group he has around him and showed relief at finally plundering some international goals.
“Lately I’ve been having [issues with] mental toughness, and trying to work on my mind, knowing that I haven’t been performing at the level that I’m supposed to,” said the FC Dallas Young Designated Player. “But I have a group of people around me that support me and let me know what I bring to the team. And so I’m trying to focus more on having a good game, making sure that my first touch is good, helping my teammates in any way I can, and that the goals will come.
“Today it showed that I focused more on the touches and the runs than just scoring goals, and we saw the result there.”