The Jesus Ferreira Conundrum

FC Dallas is in year two of a rising cycle under Coach Luchi Gonzalez.  I firmly believe they are building toward a two year MLS Cup run over the next two seasons, 2021 and 2022.  Most of these team-building cycles tend to run 4 to 5 seasons.

At the crux of this build is the improvement of – and reliance upon – three Homegrowns: Brandon Servania, Paxton Pomykal, and Jesus Ferreira.

Those three players are the key pieces of the current Homegrown talent bubble and in the long run, they will be playing at a level above MLS.  Their peak with FCD will come over the next two seasons if FCD can even keep them that long.

Yes, there are other good Homegrowns that will be important over the next decade, players like Tanner Tessmann and Ricardo Pepi just to name two. But these other guys – guys like Thomas Roberts, Bryan Reynolds, etc – are a few seasons behind.

So the key three who can carry Dallas to a championship before 2022 are Servania, Pomykal, and Ferreira.

Servania and Pomykal

In Luchi-Ball, which uses either a single or double pivot, Servania is the traditional linking-8 who will play either deep next to a 6 in the double-pivot or higher in the single pivot.

Bryan Acosta turns 27 this year, so he is at his career peak over the next three seasons. Acosta is a quality player, but he won’t develop much at his age. He is what he is.  

Servania, who is pressing Acosta for the spot is arguably better in some areas already (0.86 xG per 90, best at FCD by .45). Servania should pass him for first-choice soon. (Tanner Tessmann is also in competition here.)

Pomykal, in Luchi’s system, should be the “free-8” in the single-pivot or a 10 in the double-pivot, albeit a non-traditional 10 with defensive responsibilities.

When healthy, Pomykal showed last season that he is one of the most important, game-changing players FCD has. He too will continue to improve over the next several seasons.  His competition for this spot is Thomas Roberts and, based on PT, Jesus Ferreira.

The Jesus Ferreira Conundrum

Which brings us to FC Dallas’ problem with these aforementioned three key players since Ferreira and Pomykal can’t both play at the free-8/10 at the same time.   

Where does FC Dallas play Jesus Ferreira in Coach Luchi’s system?

FRISCO, TX – MARCH 07: Jesus Ferreira during the MLS soccer game between FC Dallas and Montreal Impact on March 7, 2020, at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, TX. (Matthew Visinsky, 3rd Degree)

Ferreira played as a 9 for the first two-thirds of last season (17 games) but he’s not a prototypical 9.  In that span, he did play some on either wing (4 games) but wasn’t really game-changing there. He also played a large amount in the final third of the season in the free-8/10 role (12 games) and was ok at it.  Certainly, he was better at the 8/10 in 2019 than he was in 2020’s two games. 

If FCD didn’t have Paxton, Jesus might be the guy in that 8/10-spot. That is where his father – former FCD MVP David Ferreira – played after all. 

FCD can’t play both Pomykal and Ferreira at the same position, they need to figure out how to get both players on the field at the same time.

As I’ve watched the younger Ferreira play over the last few seasons, he’s begun more and more to remind me of a player form the club’s past. One player above all others.

No, not his father.

Jason Kreis.

Kreis could play on the side of the midfield, on the wing, as an attacking mid, and as a high striker. But he made his bones and was a league MVP as an off-striker. Making runs off of and underneath a 9. Picking up loose balls and converting, exploiting space brought by the attention the defenses pay to his partner, playing quick combos, beating defenders on short dribbles with his burst, ripping shots from in and around the top of the box.

That’s Jesus Ferreira in a nutshell.

Analytics

I wrote a whole big section on analytics to back up my theory.  But it turned this already long post into a beast. So I took it out and made a separate post of it. If you want to dive into the analytics I found to support it, you can do so here.

So Where Should FCD Play Ferreira?

For me, Ferreira’s best work last year came underneath the high-striker, making those cutting runs into the defensive gaps, making runs under another player, occasionally on the break, and picking up loose balls.  He is more of a poacher, chaos maker, and scorer than a play maker. 

Check out this video I made of Ferreira’s goals and assists from 2019 and see if you agree. (Yes, I even included the sometimes dreaded MLS 2nd assist.)

So I don’t want Ferreira posting up back-to-goal (9), I don’t want him playing wide and crossing or cutting in like Michael Barrios (7 or 11), and I don’t want him back in the midfield (8/10). 

I want him playing right here in this black box:

The area an off-striker should operate in the offensive third, the area in which Jesus Ferreira is at his most effective.

So where do we put “The Jesus” in Gonzalez’s system which isn’t a two-striker system? Luchi-Ball doesn’t use an off-striker. How do we accommodate Ferreira as an off-striker without taking Michael Barrios – FCD’s current most important player – off the field? And how do we do all that keeping a high-9 striker to attract all the attention of the opposition center backs? How do we do that keeping Pomykal and Servania as the 10 and 8 with a 6 behind?

FCD needs a 9 and Barrios and Ferreira and Pomykal and Servania.

The Answer

The answer, I think, comes from something I was reading about how Steven Gerrard was adapting his tactics at Rangers.  Something referred to in that particular article as a “narrow wing.”

Now you might ask if that’s the same thing as a “false wing?”  I would answer that it’s close, but I want to make a distinction. 

With FCD, when we’ve seen a false-wing, it’s been a playmaking 10 out there.  Mauro Rosales, Mauro Diaz, Pablo Aranguiz, Paxton Pomykal, and even Thomas Roberts have all played this position.  These players sit deeper, sneak inside, and often play as another 8/10.

But I want Jesus to play “narrow-wing” more like Dom Badji did. I want him to come inside and camp underneath the 9 slightly off to one side as an off-striker does.

Similar? Sure. The same? No.

Positionally, this will be like Jason Kreis used to play. Or for a current MLS example, maybe a bit like Chris Mueller is doing for Orlando. But even more exaggerated.

Check out Muellers’ heat map against NYCFC when he scored twice (image is kind of dark, sorry).  Look at all the action in the attacking third, around the top of the box, and at the 18. Yes, he checks back and defends in his side wide right spot but then he gets forward and under the striker.

Chris Mueller’s heat map against NYCFC, July 15, 2020. (Courtesy Whoscored.com)

Here’s what FCD would look like in either a single pivot with Ferreira as the “narrow-wing” in either a right or left shift.

You might be inclined to call that a narrow diamond 4-4-2 with Barrios playing wide on either side of a high 9. But I specifically don’t want Ferreira as a 10 in midfield. I want him as an off-striker.

Now, yes, it would destroy the balance that FCD has been trying to reclaim and maybe have finally achieved with Fafa Picault.  But again, I’m trying to maximize Ferreira over the next two seasons, not Picault who’s already 29.

In my idea, Barrios now has the freedom to wing flop at his discretion. He can keep changing sides to keep the defense off balance.  

To make this system work, the FCD outside backs – Reggie Cannon and Ryan Hollingshead – would need to play with their head up, recognize Barrios flip-flopping, adapt to it, and work the whole field on their side when necessary (you can see the space in the above shape).  That’s something they do already anyway. 

Both 8s – Servania and Pomykal in my set up – would also need awareness of the gaps and react to cover as well.

Yes, it’s complicated. It would require coordination among the entire front 6 and the outside backs particularly in the press. But these guys are smart soccer professionals (in most cases) and they have a smart, tactical coaching staff.  I think they can pull it off.

I think it could work and I think Ferreira would flourish in it.

2 Comments

  1. I think this plays into the strengths of Hollingshead and Cannon anyways as it opens up the space they like to run into on the wings. If anything I’d be concerned that this puts a lot of pressure on the holding midfield and center backs to provide adequate cover for RB/LB who are now somewhat of a wingback, perhaps even higher up the field than normal.

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