Major League Soccer’s FC Dallas led the show for the USMNT against Panama as duo Jesus Ferreira and Paul Arriola linked up to drive the 5-1 result.
Head coach Gregg Berhalter made several changes to the frontline on Sunday, replacing Tim Weah and Ricardo Pepi for Ferreira and Arriola. His experiment paid off.
Ferreira looked comfortable taking up his Number 9 role, scoring with a right-footed shot in the 27th minute. Arriola, who also assisted Ferreira’s goal, managed his own when heading in a cross by Antonee Robinson.
“Jesus was, for us, pretty clear of how we wanted to use him in this game. I think he did an excellent job, and similarly with Paul. We knew that he would be relentless pressing, we knew he'd stretch the backline and get behind them, and we know he can arrive in the penalty box. Both of those players are in form and doing a great job with their club and scoring goals with their club. We didn't hesitate to start them at all,” Berhalter said postgame.
“In both of their cases, it's arriving. You have to get into the penalty box if you want to score. Jesus is a good combination player, is a very clever player. He understands where space is really well and Paul the same thing. We've challenged him about arriving in the box, getting good positions and he did that. Great service on his goal and he was able to put away a nice goal.”
Arriola may only be new to FC Dallas this season, but the connection between the two players on the pitch is recognizable.
“I think the chemistry between Paul and me, it shows. We've been doing it before and once he came into Dallas it was even better,” Ferreira said postgame.
“We practice the pressing all the time, so it made it easier to have someone that you can trust and that gets your back. I'm excited to share the field and I know every time we're there together we'll do a good job.”
The result maintained the USMNT in second place on the Concacaf table with 25 points in 13 games. The team travels to Costa Rica on Wednesday for the final match of the qualifying window, where the American side must avoid a 6-0 result to clinch their spot in the international tournament.
But Arriola knows the job is not yet done. “I'll be honest with you, I'm not celebrating anything,” he added.
“I was in this exact position or a very similar position four years ago and we know how that qualification ended. So for me, I think it's just maintaining focus, understanding that we still have work to do and anything is possible. For us, like I said, the mentality of this group is and has to be to go down there to get a good result against Costa Rica.”