Benny Feilhaber did not expect a U.S. Men’s National Team call-up any time soon. He had been involved in a few January camps in recent years, but the Sporting KC striker hadn’t been with the true first team in quite awhile. With two vital World Cup qualifiers looming, he did not expect to be reintroduced with a trip to Russia on the line.
The first email came, telling the 32-year-old midfielder he had been named to the preliminary roster. He thought nothing of it. Preliminary rosters are just that: preliminary. It was a nice bit of recognition, but he did not expect it to be anything more.
Then, the official roster was released, and Feilhaber’s name was listed as one of 25 players that are now tasked with leading the USMNT past Panama and Triniad & Tobago and into a World Cup.
“Not really. Definitely not in this point,” Feilhaber said on Tuesday when asked if he thought he had a chance of making the squad. “My last camp was January camp and my last camp outside of January camp, I think it’s been over six years. I can’t stress enough how much of a shock it was for me. Once you accept it and you know it’s reality, you focus in like you’ve been coming in every camp.
“I didn’t expect to get this call, but I’m here to do whatever I can for the team and get us qualified.”
Feilhaber’s position within the team is quite clear. For years, he’s been one of the best No. 10s in MLS. Over the past three seasons, Feilhaber has fired 22 goals and provided 33 assists, and that kind of production will be very welcome within the USMNT.
He has the ability to create for both himself and others in the final third, and the USMNT has lacked that at times for the past several months. Against Costa Rica, the U.S. was suffocated by the Ticos backline. Then, Honduras had plenty of success limiting the U.S. attack until a switch to a 3-5-2 prompted a late goal.
“I’ll just try and do the things that are my strengths,” Feilhaber said. “It’s creating opportunities for our strikers and our wingers, trying to combine in our midfield and open up space and try and 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 anything to try and get three points. That’s what’s important.
Feilhaber says he’s willing to do whatever it takes to help the team, but it remains to be seen just how many minutes he actually gets. Bruce Arena likely will not be willing to completely shift the lineup to accommodate a player that hasn’t been involved all cycle, making Feilhaber a supersub option.
Arena wouldn’t commit to an option either way as played coy on his plans for the Sporting KC attacker. As far as Arena is concerned, Feilhaber is a good player, and he’s good enough to be involved with this U.S. team in some capacity.
“Just watching him play and the kind of form he is in and the kind of qualities he continues to have and thinking that maybe there are situations where we can utilize his skills,” Arena said.
“He’s a good passer. In the final third of the field, he has some qualities that I think we’re lacking.”
Feilhaber is one of the few players on the roster that hasn’t been a part of the squad during the Hex. He’s been able to watch from a far and see how the team has succeeded and failed. It gives him a unique perspective and a unique energy about rejoining the team for two games that are essentially do-or-die.
Whether or not he has a part to play, Feilhaber is looking forward to the chance to maybe, in some way, help his country reach a World Cup.
“You don’t want to come in and be stressed out and not play your game,” Feilhaber said. “We’re a team that should beat Panama at home. We don’t want to be anything different than what we are. We don’t want to change what we are, and I think that’s a good thing.
“The group has been good, the attitude has been good. Watching from afar and us sometimes not getting results, it’s frustrating, but to start the camp, it’s been a great attitude for everybody and we’re on a good way to get the result.”