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Jesus Ferreira sidled up next to Etiando Tavares in the locker room and did what he did every game: predict his forthcoming stat-line.
“I guarantee you I’m going to get two nutmegs and score three goals today,” Tavares remembers Ferreira saying.
It was September 2018. The Tulsa Roughnecks, a USL team, were minutes away from facing off against Seattle Sounders FC 2. Ferreira was a gaunt, brace-faced17-year-old in a league full of grown men, but his confidence didn’t match his looks. He had recently been demoted from FC Dallas, but that didn’t stop him from thinking he would dominate in the lower leagues. But Tavares was less sure — achieving this stat-line would mean matching his goal output from the last 11 games.
So, Tavares, 25-years-old at the time, playfully egged him on.
“Stop it,” Tavares said. “But then I said, “‘let’s see it.”
As the clock hit 90 minutes, Ferreira had recorded a hat-trick … but ultimately fell short of his original prediction.
“What happened to the nutmeg?” Tavares asked Ferreira in the locker room.
“It’s not about how you start, it’s how you finish,” Tavares remembers Ferreira responding.
After the game ended, an unsatisfied Ferreira stayed 15 minutes later, working on one-on-one drills.
“He told me: I might not get it today, but I’m gonna get it tomorrow,” Tavares said. “That’s when I knew he was different.”
For Jesus Ferreira, being different means trying to live up to — if not surpass — the greatness of his father, David Ferreira, who played as a midfielder for the Colombian National Team from 2001 through 2008. Four years after his time with the Roughnecks and now 20-years-old, it is fair to say Ferreira is well on his way. Look no further than Jan. 31, Ferreira’s United States National Team debut against Trinidad and Tobago, when he notched two goals and three assists.
“Anyone with a dad who has a dad who played, people are always going to try to compare them,” Tavares said. “But every time he came in, he expected to do big things every day.”
As a child, Jesus Ferreira, along with his two younger brothers and mom, attended many of his dad’s soccer games. Watching his dad, whose professional club career spanned 20 years in Brazil, Colombia and the United States, play sparked little Jesus’ love for soccer.
“It was mainly hearing the fans in Brazil, I think that was the one that really shook me the most,” Ferreira said. “Hearing the fans, the whole stadium, chant my dad’s name, that’s a feeling that…I wanna do that one day.”
When his dad signed with MLS side FC Dallas in 2010, the Ferreira family relocated from Santa Marta, Colombia to Dallas, Texas. The transition proved difficult for Ferreira, especially since he only spoke Spanish and Portuguese.
Every day, before his dad went to practice at the Toyota Center, he dropped Jesus off at the facility’s front desk with the office manager for a tutoring session, which helped him learn English in a year and a half. But even the most menial of daily tasks — like grocery shopping — was difficult for the Ferreira family.
“To move to a country where you don’t know the language, you don’t know no one, is tough, especially as a kid,” Ferreira said.
Any alone time with his dad, then, was valuable for little Jesus. At family dinners, he picked his dad’s brain, peppering his dad with questions about what it took to make the next level. When his dad was practicing, little Jesus was kicking the ball around with his two younger brothers on the sideline. When practice ended, Jesus sprinted onto the pitch to refine his finishing, dribbling, and technical skill with his dad, Atiba Harris, who played with David Ferreira from 2009 through 2011 and Jesus from 2016 and 2017, remembers.
“You could tell at that young age, you could tell he was destined to be somebody because you saw the drive within him,” Harris said. “Usually, you don’t see a lot of youngsters want to play on their own. With Jesus, having his dad there, and his dad didn’t have to force him to come out on the field, he wanted to. He was the one who wanted to be there as a little kid. That spoke volumes. And you could tell it got a little bit intense sometimes. Because as a father, you tend to push your kids a little bit more, but at the same time, have a little bit of fun. But it was Jesus’ drive that propelled a lot of things for him.”
As his dad dominated on the main stage, Ferreira transformed into one of FC Dallas’ prized homegrown prospects, netting a Messi-like 48 goals in 50 games of U.S. Soccer Development Academy play, leading the FCD Under-16 team to a 2015-16 US Soccer Development Academy championship title.
When his dad left FC Dallas for Colombian soccer in 2014, Ferreira took to streaming his dad’s games on his computer, then called him after either of their games, a trend that continues to this day. After one of the rare games a 15-year-old Ferreira failed to score with the FC Dallas U-18 team, he stayed after practice, alone, booting shot-after-shot, Jommar Reyes, then-teammate and midfielder, remembers.
“He’s like a lion: hungry,” Reyes said. “After he struggles in practice or games, you could see how hungry he was to perform the next game or the next training session. He’s always looking to prove a point. That’s what makes him who he is: He always wants to prove something. You could tell he didn’t want to be under his dad’s shadow.”
Smiling wide enough to show his braces, a 16-year-old Jesus Ferreira held up an FC Dallas jersey with the last name Ferreira on it. He had just signed his first professional contract — with FC Dallas, the team with whom his dad won the 2010 MLS MVP. As the picture was being snapped, Ferreira thought: “When I first signed, I wanted to make sure they don’t remember me because of my dad. I wanted to make sure that they remember me,” he later admitted to FCDallas.com when he signed a contract extension in 2019.
Although his aspirations are high, the picture offers a subtle reminder: Ferreira is still just a kid. A kid who carries his grandma’s empanadas — packed with potatoes and minced meat — with him in a plastic baggy headed into the locker room every morning. Who prefers Lucky Charms cereal for breakfast, and Colombian candies and Takis chips as a midday snack. Who shimmies to Bad Bunny, the famous Spanish rapper, recites trending Tik-Tok dances, watches Spongebob, and plays Fortnite. Who beat-boxes to his friends’ freestyle-raps, hyping them up even after they drop the most subpar bars.
But while others may view him as a kid, he is hungry to shake that label. Make a name for himself. Make a name for himself explains why he decided to forego high school at 15 years old, opting instead for full-time professional soccer and online classes. Or why when his dad was gone, he acted as a father figure to his two younger brothers, providing them with spending money. Or why, he is the last to leave practice, the first to arrive.
At first, that unsatiated hunger helped him. In a pre-season friendly match in 2017 against Stanford, Ferreira netted two goals. And, as the season rolled around, in his first game for FC Dallas, in the 89th minute of what would be a 6-2 win against Real Salt Lake, Ferreira scored his first professional goal. Those results stemmed from Ferreira’s tireless dedication, Walker Hume, then-Tulsa Roughnecks teammate and defender, said.
“Jesus was always doing extra,” Hume, whose locker was also next to Ferreira’s, said. “And it wasn’t like he was being told to. He wanted to be a top player from the age of 15.”
But, at times, Ferreira pushes too hard. In one training session after those games, Ferreira missed goal-after-goal, prompting then head-coach, Oscar Pareja, to pull him aside and ream him out, Dominique Badji, then a midfielder on FC Dallas, said.
“The consistency aspect wasn’t there and I think that was what was so frustrating for the coaching staff,” Badji said. “And maybe that was the reason he wasn’t getting so many reps. They wanted more consistency from Jesus.”
And, after making only two appearances for FC Dallas in 2018 and 2019, Pareja decided the only way for Ferreira to find consistency was to demote him to the Tulsa Roughnecks, FC Dallas’ USL affiliate.
When Etiando Tavares heard Jesus Ferreira was being sent down from the FC Dallas first team to the Tulsa Roughnecks, a question kept creeping into his mind.
“Immediately you’re thinking: Is this kid gonna live up to that name or be as big as his dad?” Tavares said. “Obviously, when your dad is that famous, people are gonna raise their eyebrows: Is he really that good? He always walks in with that target on his back.”
Once the first training session rolled around, though, Tavares’ doubts were assuaged. In that training session, Ferreira scored three goals in the first three drills. Possession drill, five-on-five scrimmage, intrasquad scrimmage — didn’t matter, Ferreria found the back of the net.
“Me and [my teammate at the time, Michael Gamble] were just looking at each other, like: this kid is a goal machine,” Tavares said. “We realized he’s not just hype, he’s not just here because of his dad. He was super, super quick, super skillful. I was like wow: this dude does not play like he’s 18, he plays years ahead of his age.”
Scoring six goals in 14 games with the Roughnecks, Ferreira was called back up to the Toros.
When Ferreira returned to FC Dallas, he came equipped with a new post-practice routine: wind-sprints, free-kicks, one-on-ones.
“You gotta take it easy. Save some for the weekend. Rest your body,” Badji remembers FC Dallas coaching staff members telling Ferreira.
Take it easy? Save some for the weekend? Rest his body? No chance.
Ferreira wanted to stay on the team permanently, but starting wasn’t a requirement. When Badji suffered a season-ending hamstring injury in the second game, Ferreira’s name was called. In the first four games, Ferreira capitalized on the opportunity, notching two goals and three assists. A breakout performance cemented him as FC Dallas’ starting striker for the future.
2020, however, saw Ferreira regress, recording zero goals in 21 matches for FC Dallas. While analysts and pundits alike questioned why FC Dallas played him out of position — at the false nine instead of the attacking nine — Ferreira redirected the brunt of the blame inward.
“It was personal, I guess,” Ferreira said. “I just wasn’t sharp.”
Even though he struggled in 2020, his long-term goal remains the same, which is to play for a European club. To do so, he knows he must perform better as FC Dallas’ first game on April 17 against the Colorado Rapids rolls around.
“I can’t afford to go down, you know?” Ferreira said. “That’s something I’ve been working on to get better. So I use that year as motivation to get me prepared for 2021.”
With his “man of the match” performance against Trinidad and Tobago in late January, Ferreira got off to a fast start in 2021.
But just a year ago, Ferreira couldn’t even picture himself in Red, White, and Blue.
As long as Ferreira could remember, he dreamt of representing his native country, Colombia. That Ferreira never fielded a call from Colombia to play for their national team, much less their youth teams, hurt him initially.
“I was just hoping I would get the call-up [from Colombia],” Ferreira said. “If I had the opportunity, I would go and support it. That’s where I was born, that’s what my dad played for, so it’s like: If Colombia called me up before and said: ‘hey, we want you to play here, I would have totally played over there. But I never got the opportunity, never got a call-up.”
So, when the United States showed interest — calling him up to the United States U17 squad as early as 2016 — Ferreira gave it some thought.
And, when Gregg Berhalter was hired in early December 2018, the United States’ interest did not waver. In 2019, Ferreira received a call-up to the United States U23 team ahead of qualifying games for the 2020 Summer Olympics.
Knowing Ferreira was still on the fence but understanding it was a difficult decision, Berhalter recruited him subtly.
“Come into campus and see what the environment’s like,” Berhalter simply told Ferreira in a phone call in Jan. 2019.
Notorious for their shortage of clinical strikers, Berhalter knew Ferreira would be a boon, but wasn’t sure if he would stand out among the 38 prospective members of the United States men’s national team who were training in Bradenton, Florida.
As soon as he stepped on the field, though, Ferreira proved himself. While his penalty box prowess and snappy defensive anticipation impressed Berhalter, one other trait shined most.
“What I noticed about Jesus, and think this is what separates him from other players, is that he has such a good instinct for the game,” Berhalter said. “You could tell that his father was a professional soccer player, you could tell that he comes from a soccer family, you could tell he’s been around soccer for his whole life. He’s almost like a street soccer player.”
Heart-to-heart conversations with his dad, who has since retired from professional soccer, helped Jesus make the decision to become a United States citizen. The decision paid off in earnest. He gained United States citizenship in early December 2021, made his debut two months later in a friendly exhibition against Costa Rica, then impressed in the game against Trinidad & Tobago.
After the win against Trinidad and Tobago, Berhalter, who played with the Los Angeles Galaxy from 2011 through 2014 as a central fullback and played against Jesus’ father multiple times, poked fun at Jesus.
“Your dad was much better than you and you don’t even know it,” Berhalter said he told Ferreira, jokingly.
“He just laughed it off,” Berhalter said. “I think sometimes the youth don’t appreciate their predecessors. But Jesus appreciates his dad.”
I am a rising senior at Butler University. I am a reporter and associate sport editor for the Butler Collegian, the student newspaper. I also write for SB Nation’s Liberty Ballers and a write longform features for The StepBack.
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