World Cup: Can Benny Feilhaber return to USMNT? Brazilian-born MF "feels like a different player"
CARSON, Calif. – Benny Feilhaber had all but disappeared from the US national team landscape after coming off the bench in three of the Americans' games at the 2010 World Cup. But after a solid 2013 season helping Sporting Kansas City capture the MLS Cup title, he's been given another chance.
The Brazilian-born midfielder is headed to his native land, as Jurgen Klinsmann moves the January camp to São Paulo for nearly two weeks, and he's hoping he can convince the US coach that he deserves consideration for the 23-man squad when it returns to Brazil for the World Cup.
“No doubt, playing in a World Cup is special,” Feilhaber told reporters before the team departed StubHub Center. “Playing a World Cup in the country that your born in is even more so, and this trip, it's not the World Cup, but it's a step to the World Cup. ...
“If you're here in January camp in the year of a World Cup, you've got a chance. There's five months to go, and I think Jurgen believes in everybody out here. It's about not only playing well on the field, but being able to be a good teammate and know what you're doing off the field as well. Jurgen watches every little piece, and he'll make a good group to go to Brazil.”
Feilhaber, who turns 29 next Sunday, won his way onto the Bob Bradley-led 2010 team from Europe, where he spent six years in Germany, England and Denmark, and he was brought off the bench in South Africa in the Yanks' tie with Slovenia, victory over Algeria and extra-time loss to Ghana.
But he's played in just three of 58 US matches since, the last two following January camp call-ups in 2011 and 2012, watching his prospects dwindle after struggling with the New England Revolution, who he joined in 2011.
Feilhaber joined Sporting last year and enjoyed something of a renaissance.
“I feel like a different player, just one year there and, obviously, having won the MLS Cup,” said Feilhaber, who grew up in New York and Southern California. “With Sporting, it's a different style. I had to become fitter than I was before, do the dirty work as well defensively, because Peter [Vermes, Sporting's head coach] won't put you on the field unless you do it.
“And one thing that I got [from joining SKC] that's important is taking more chances going forward, and I think especially in the playoffs it was something that I was able to do to help the team.”
He says he has more components to his game than in 2010, “more defensive bite, [and] when I do get the ball, I'm trying to take it forward and create opportunities. A lot of times in the past, I was maybe a little too passive, happy keeping possession, and I think Jurgen wants more from [attacking midfielders].”
Klinsmann liked what he saw from Feilhaber in Kansas City.
“There is no doubt Benny is very talented,” the US coach said. “What we are working on is having him be more consistent and having an impact on games for 90 minutes.”
Feilhaber wants to demonstrate that he can be what Klinsmann needs.
“It's important each and every day to prove what kind of person you are and what kind of player you are on the field,” he said.
“It's a good camp, it's a long camp, and I think Jurgen is going to have a really good idea of what everybody offers and brings to the team, and he'll make his decision, and I'm sure it will be a good group.”