GLENDALE, Ariz. – The way Benny Feilhaber saw it, the US national team deserved to come out on top against Venezuela.
Feilhaber saw an opponent that wasn’t creating, especially matched up with a US defense that was playing so well. He also saw the US create the bulk of the opportunities and, perhaps more importantly, play hard for more than 90 minutes.
In the end, the Americans got what they deserved, as Ricardo Clark provided the winning goal late in stoppage time in the Americans’ 1-0 win over La Vinotinto Saturday night at University of Phoenix Stadium.
“That’s how you get rewarded at the end,” Feilhaber said.
Victory was sweet for a team of guys, many who know each other well from Major League Soccer and have spent most of this month together in camp preparing for two chances to impress coach Jurgen Klinsmann. The US players spent much of the camp adjusting to Klinsmann’s preferred style of play, and while it didn’t translate into a lot of goals on Saturday, it did produce plenty of chances.
All the Americans – and Clark in particular – needed was one. One chance to make the previous 98 minutes moot.
Clark said he wondered if he’d ever get a call again from US Soccer after his forgettable performance in the 2010 World Cup and criticism for his play in other major international competitions.
His current club, Eintracht Frankfurt, also seemed disillusioned with the combative midfielder, clearing the way for him to come to camp with the national team.
“I wasn’t playing at the moment,” Clark said. “My club got some plans to bring in some new players and hopefully help me out in finding a new club. So the coach agreed to let me come into camp. … It just worked out. It was meant to be that way.”
Clark has been to the dance before, but goalkeeper Bill Hamid, midfielder Graham Zusi and defender A.J. DeLaGarza had never been capped until Saturday night, when all three were in the starting XI.
D.C. United’s Hamid was credited with one save as the US controlled the pace of the match. He was asked if he’d rather Venezuela had tested him more.
“No chance,” he said. “Every single player in front of me played well. Defensively, we were sticking to tackles, cutting out lanes and doing what we needed to do to prevent them from getting chances, and it showed.”
Zusi, a key player for Sporting Kansas City who didn’t look a bit fazed by the challenge of international play, called his first cap “a blast.”
“It would have been a little bit of a letdown for us, I think,” Zusi said, asked if leaving with a scoreless draw would have stung after the many chances the US generated. “It would have been a little disheartening, but thanks to Rico, we pulled it out.”