With the MLS Cup playoffs set to begin, the MLSsoccer.com series "Playoffs In Profile" will take a look at the players and personalities who will each play a crucial role in their teams' hopes of winning the MLS Cup.
In this installment, new media editor Fidencio Enriquez focuses on the discovery of David Ferreira and how the 5-foot-5 Colombian emerged from the same town as Carlos “El Pibe” Valderrama to become an MLS star. Check back with MLSsoccer.com to read the latest story as the "Playoffs in Profile" series continues this week.
Schellas Hyndman was a little more than a year into his stint as head coach at FC Dallas early in 2009, and he needed a central midfielder. His team had finished with an 8-10-12 record in 2008, fifth in the Western Conference, but they needed a No. 10 to power the squad.
“When I took the job with Dallas, I needed a central midfielder,” says Hyndman. “And it all came back to my mind.”
The “all” was a 5-foot-5, 145-pound enganche from Colombia known as David Ferreira.
Hyndman first saw Ferreira in 2005 when, while still serving as the head coach for the Southern Methodist University Mustangs and the president of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, he watched Clube Atlético Paranaense train during an NSCAA coaching course in Curitiba, Brazil.
In the center of the pitch was a short, long-haired man whom Paranaense had acquired from Colombian powerhouse América de Cali. In his five seasons with los Diablos Rojos, Ferreira had won three consecutive Mustang Cups (2000 to 2002), and had scored 28 goals in 217 matches.
The Furaçao, undoubtedly, were excited about their newest acquisition.
“They said they had a Colombian on the team,” Hyndman says. “The first thing I thought was, here we are in Brazil and they’re bringing in a Colombian to play in central midfield. I thought it was remarkable.”
What Hyndman saw then was a technical, talented midfielder with great vision and character. What he noticed most, though, was a tremendous work ethic. And that trait had been there ever since Ferreira was a child, when his bare feet caressed the edges of a ball roughed up from countless hours of play on the streets of Santa Marta, Colombia, just blocks from the home turf of the country’s most famous player, Carlos “El Pibe” Valderrama.
From that day on, Hyndman kept tabs on Ferreira. Hyndman knew Ferreira had become an integral cog in Paranaense’s midfield, but after three seasons since Ferreira’s arrival, Atlético still hadn’t won any hardware.
They loaned him out to to Al-Shabab of the United Arab Emirates League and he returned four months later a UAE champion. He struggled, though to readjust to Brazilian soccer.
Hyndman knew all that. And he knew Ferreira was the difference-maker he needed.
In February 2009, FC Dallas moved in to get Ferreira on a one year-loan. Ferreira, a bit disheartened by how sour things had become in Brazil and how his biggest fans had suddenly turned on him, was highly appreciative of FCD’s interest.
“As a player, there are good moments and there are bad ones,” Ferreira said. “During my bad moments, I didn’t see any sort of support. I felt sad. I felt that, as a soccer player, you’re only wanted when you’re in good form.
“I didn’t see that support from Atlético, and FCD opened their doors for me. That filled me with confidence and pride.”
After 38 goals and 42 assists through 179 games for Paranaense, Ferreira was on his way to Major League Soccer, where his childhood hero Valderrama had dazzled crowds when the league first arrived in 1996.
Ferreira wasted no time showing his own skills upon arriving in the US. In his first year, he earned the nickname “el Torito” (The Little Bull) for his aggressiveness on the pitch, his cutting runs, incisive passes, and tireless efforts. He could gore you with a goal, or trample you with passes.
In a year largely spent adjusting to the league, Ferreira managed to score eight goals and dish out seven assists in 30 games as FCD narrowly missed out on the playoffs.
“The hard part was gelling with the team, getting used to the rhythm of the game, the language,” Ferreira said. “Once I got used to everything, things changed.”
“Things changed” is an understatement. If 2009 was a season of adjustment for Ferreira, 2010 was revolutionary.
FCD got Ferreira on a second year-long loan and, with his feet firmly planted in MLS, the playmaker has erupted for an MVP-quality campaign. He registered eight goals and 13 assists (second behind Landon Donovan) while helping his team put together an impressive 19-game unbeaten streak en route to their first playoff appearance since 2007.
“The big thing with his play has been that he’s much more comfortable with the league,” Hyndman said. “He understands the officiating, he’s gotten used to the speed of play, the athleticism, the quality of play.”
But more importantly, says the coach, is that he’s developed an understanding with the guys in the locker room. Because of that, Ferreira’s teammates are looking for him earlier and more often than they were last season, which is why FCD’s No. 10, in turn, is making a difference.
The Catalyst For Success
It’s difficult to single out just one instance this season that testifies more to what Ferreira is about than FCD’s Sept. 22 game against the New England Revolution.
Down 2-0 with 12 minutes left in the game, FCD simply couldn’t crack the Revs. Earlier in the match, Ferreira himself had missed a chance when, after drawing a penalty, he sent it wide.
That had been eating at him. He felt that if FCD lost, it was entirely his fault.
“I hate losing,” said Ferreira, who calls himself a calm man off the field. “But on the field, I’m totally different. I want to win. When I don’t like something – like losing – I’m explosive.”
In the 78th minute, Ferreira exploded. He found a clearance just outside his own area, found open space and charged down the field. He juked Kevin Alston and, just as he entered the Revs’ 18-yard box, Darrius Barnes knocked him down and sent Ferreira to the penalty spot again.
This time, Ferreira went high and down the middle from 11 steps out. Goal.
In stoppage time, as the seconds ticked away and FCD’s then 15-game unbeaten streak was seemingly nearing an end, Ferreira orchestrated a give-and-go on the right flank. He reached the endline and sent a lobbed ball across the goal line for Jeff Cunningham to tap in.
“A lot of our players look up to him,” FCD captain Daniel Hernandez said. “Lots of times, people talk about vocal leaders and what it takes to be a leader. David doesn’t say much … but he leads by example. Teammates see the hard work he puts in, and that translates to what our team is about.”
When a player is considered for the league MVP award, one must look beyond numbers. It's more how a player affects the team that matters. One look at FC Dallas, and there’s no question: Ferreira is the gear that makes the clock tic.
“You always hope a player comes in and has an impact on the team, has the ability to be a difference-maker, but I don’t think I expected David to be as much of a difference maker as he has been this year,” Hyndman said. “David is, right now I would consider, one of the best, most effective players in the history of FC Dallas and, without a doubt, one of the most effective players in MLS for what he’s doing for the team.”
There’s nothing more Ferreira would like than to bring another MLS MVP award back to Santa Marta to accompany the one Valderrama won in 1996 with the Tampa Bay Mutiny.
“It would be the best if I won it,” Ferreira said. “It would be incredible. It would be an important recognition for what I’ve done this year, but mainly for what the team’s done this year.”
FCD have a chance this season of winning their first MLS Cup in franchise history, beginning with their Western Conference semifinal series opener against Real Salt Lake on Saturday. If they do, there’s no denying that a major role in that accomplishment will be played by the man who shows the same intensity, skills and desire that Hyndman saw in Curitiba five years ago.
“When you look at what a player brings to the whole team, you look at FC Dallas – a team that plays very good soccer and went 19 games unbeaten – and at the heart of all this is David,” Hyndman said. “I don’t know what FC Dallas would be like without David. He does so much for this team and I think our success is a reflection of who’s making that happen.”
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