Jesus Ferreira is in a position to start as a striker for the US men’s national team at the World Cup after an impressive rise over the past year.
Ferreira is an NBA All-Star player and is one of the league’s top goalscorers with 18. This 21-year-old has scored five more times for the USMNT. He is arguably the most qualified striker in the nation.
But while he’s a star in the making, he’s also now under a larger microscope than he’s ever been as the World Cup approaches.
It got to him, Ferreira said. As he pushes himself to develop, the pressure to perform at a high level is exacerbating the mental health struggles he says have plagued him for a long time.
“I’ve always had problems with my mood,” Ferreira admitted to reporters on Tuesday. “When some things just don’t go my way on the field or screw up, I tend to kind of shut out. I knew that from the start.
“Obviously I have coaches who help me with that and will help me, give me things that will help me move forward with that quickly, but I knew I needed more help.”
So, Ferreira’s agent linked him to a sports psychologist in an effort to ease some of his feelings.
The striker credits his sessions with a mental health professional for helping him get through what was a difficult year but ultimately transforming his life.
“I’m glad he can come and help me where I need help and that’s one of the things that has been really good,” he said. “Whenever I get frustrated, I can move on. I can move forward faster when things are not going my way. I only think about positive things and make sure I am thinking about getting a good game rather than the end product.”
It is a profound development for a player who is still growing. He needed to stop focusing so much on the little things and instead see a bigger picture sometimes. He’s already accomplished incredible things, and he’s learning to step back and appreciate the work he’s done. He made himself a leading candidate to start the World Cup, after all.
As things stand, Ferreira is the favorite to lead the USMNT line in Qatar, best suited to the Greg Berhalter system. But there are competitors.
There’s Ricardo Pepe, a longtime friend and colleague who Wu Ferreira says brings out the best in him. There is Josh Sargent, who has returned to Norwich City after several years of stagnation. And there’s Jordan Bivock, who was left off the USMNT roster but is still very much in the mix as he beats the Bundesliga.
For his part, Ferreira insisted that the competition is positive, not only with his close friend Pepe but also with the entire group of strikers. He encourages his teammates to “go off” with their clubs and “set records and score every weekend if possible”.
“We want to see each other succeed and I think that’s the best thing about this group: we have healthy relationships and healthy competition,” he added. “But, at the same time, we will be competing for each other’s positions.”
This competition may continue in the next few weeks. Attackers are traditionally judged based on goals, and one great round of form can shake things up dramatically. Berhalter also made it clear that the decision will also be made based on tactical suitability – one of the reasons Ferrera is in such good shape.
Ferreira, who has cited players like Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus as role models, knows his role in the USMNT system. He may not be the primary goal scorer, but he is tasked with helping create those goals through creativity or pressure. In Berhalter’s USMNT system, the attacker may not be the one putting the ball in the back of the net, but they need to play a role in getting it there.
Knowing that has helped Ferrera tremendously this year. Ferreira, formerly seeded No. 10 and now No. 9, has had to adjust to being a primary scorer with FC Dallas, but he can also count on the fact that he won’t be judged solely on goals.
“I noticed this at the beginning of this year,” he said. “There was a huge amount of games I went without scoring, and for me, my goal was to score. A lot of that was a lot of pressure on myself, and I needed to focus on getting that out of my mind and making sure I knew the goals would be achieved.
“I had a group of friends, coaches and teammates who came to me and made sure to tell me that I was getting more for the team than just scoring and that got me working on my mental health.”
He added, “Before I think about the end product, I think about how having a good game will lead me to get the end product, which is the goal. It has helped me so much in games that I have no idea what I’m doing.” I feel like I’m just focused on making sure I have a good match and get a positive result. “
The positive result for all is a great run in the World Cup finals, but there are still hurdles for him to overcome.
The first is two friendlies this week, with the United States facing Japan and Saudi Arabia. The two matches are USMNT’s last two matches before the roster was confirmed in November, and are the last two matches for players to present their case to Berhalter in the national team jersey.
The rest of the persuasion must be done at the club level. FC Dallas is currently third in the West, and has great aspirations, as Ferreira’s form is vital to their MLS Cup hopes.
There is a lot on Ferreira’s plate. But Ferreira’s newfound skills make him feel more prepared than ever for the moments to come, no matter how massive the stage he finds himself in.
“There are a lot of things I worked on myself abroad that helped me be in this position, starting with my mental health,” he said. “It’s just a big part of me to realize what I have to improve on and off the field.
“I’m happy that this can help me develop as a footballer, as a person, and I’m excited to see what happens.”