Benny Feilhaber on return to USMNT: "It's a real shock to be here"

SANFORD, Fla. – Benny Feilhaber thought his days with the US national team were over.

A brief call-up for January camp earlier this year ended a three-year absence with the US, but Feilhaber assumed it was an isolated blip in a broader exile.

Then came an email that shocked the Sporting Kansas City midfielder. He’d been called up for the USMNT’s crucial World Cup qualifiers against Panama on Friday (7:30 pm ET; ESPN2, Univision, UDN) and at Trinidad & Tobago next Tuesday.

“It’s extremely important. Last two games of the Hex and six points to guarantee our ticket to the World Cup,” Feilhaber said after Tuesday’s practice at Orlando City’s training facility. “Extremely important, first game against Panama is hopefully to leapfrog them, so three points are vital. For me, it’s a real shock to be here to be honest. Didn’t expect to get this call, but I’m here to do whatever I can for the team and help us qualify.”

A member of the US squad at the 2010 World Cup, Feilhaber was largely shutout of the USMNT under Jurgen Klinsmann and hasn’t played in a qualifier since 2009. US head coach Bruce Arena said on Monday that he expects Panama to play in a defensive posture, something that could help him get on the field on Friday.

“He’s a good passer,” said Arena. “In the final third of the field he has some qualities that I think we’re lacking… he’s a good player, that’s why he’s here.”  

For his part, Feilhaber plans on trying to play within himself if tabbed on Friday.

“I’ll just try and do the things that are my strengths, and that’s create opportunities for our strikers, wingers,” he said. “Try to combine in the midfield to try to open up space and try to get into the attack as well. If I’m called upon, those are the things I’m trying to do. At this point, it’s really anything that can help get three points is what’s important.

“Obviously it’s crucial because it’s the last two games, but the Hex has been going for a couple years now,” he added. “We’ve put ourselves in this position where you can see it as a bad thing and a good thing. Obviously, we control our own destiny and that’s one thing we’ve been talking about a lot. We have to win at home against Panama to get into third-place and secure it with the last game.”

While Feilhaber’s call-up came as a surprise for many, USMNT defender Graham Zusi backed his Sporting KC teammate, saying he brings several qualities to the team.    

“He’s a unique player,” said Zusi. “Benny brings properties to the game and to the field that not a lot of players can. He’s extremely good in the final third, providing the final pass and scoring goals.”