Benny Feilhaber to ASN: 'It's on Me to Prove Myself'
December 02, 2016
THE BRUCE ARENA ERA has begun, and one of the top items on his agenda is establishing a new U.S. national team player pool. In his first week on the job, Arena stressed that the Yannks need better passing in the final third.
And one of of the first names he mentioned was Sporting Kansas City midfielder Benny Feilhaber.
Born in Brazil but raised in New York, Texas, and California, Feilhaber has extensive history with the national team, including a game-winning strike against Mexico in the 2007 Gold Cup and some impressive play at both the 2009 Confederations Cup at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
When Bob Bradley was in charge, Feilhaber was a core member of the U.S. squad. But Jurgen Klinsmann did not rate Feilhaber, periodically stating that “there are others ahead of him" anytime his name was mentioned.
Arena needs to assemble the right mix of talent, and quickly, and many feel that the 31-year-old is going to get a long look.
“Benny’s played in a World Cup, he’s been in camp, so he’s not an inexperienced player,” Arena told ExtraTime radio this week. “I would tend to believe he’s going to get an opportunity.”
Aware of the opportunity, Feilhaber is in a good mood these days and is quick with a joke. Following the announcement from U.S. Soccer that it had fired Klinsmann, the reactions from American players were slow to flow through social media but Feilhaber was among the first to convey his feelings:
????— Benny Feilhaber (@b_feilhaber22) November 21, 2016
“I was on my way to California that day and I was just excited about going on vacation,” Feilhaber said, chuckling. “I'll let you guys decide what that was.”
Despite being on the outside looking in, Feilhaber has kept a close eye on the national team. Dating back to his pro debut in the Bundesliga followed by an appearance in the UEFA Champions League and the World Cup, he has played in big games and he knows that the upcoming World Cup qualifiers in March are crucial.
When discussing the opportunity to get back involved at a time like this, Feilhaber gets serious in a hurry.
“Obviously there's excitement for the potential of the opportunity—but at the same time, I'm trying to stay even keeled because I haven't gotten a call or anything like that,” Feilhaber said. “I'm going to put a lot of pressure on myself because this has been a long time since I've had an opportunity like this. It might be tough to really stay calm each and every training.
"For the most part I usually play better under pressure so that might help me in the end. I'm on the outside and I have to prove myself unlike some of these other players who are normally 23-player selections and will be part of the set up for years to come. It's definitely on me to prove myself. I'm very excited.
"Hopefully I don't over think it. I am trying to not get too ahead of myself.”
It's easy to see how Feilhaber could help the U.S. national team. The Americans have struggled in the final third, and that incisive final ball has been lacking for quite some time.
“We need a better passer in the midfield than we have," Arena said. "We need to have a player in the attacking half of the field who can deliver the right ball at the right time. Who that is remains to be seen. There’s a couple of domestic players that are very good at that who we’ll look at in camp in January, and that to me is an area we’ve got to identify.”
While it's true that there are a few options to play that position, Feilhaber is the most experienced of the lot and that could be a crucial factor with a team that now has its back against the wall.
Feilhaber agrees with Arena on the need for a better passing, and added that it was tough to watch the team struggle on TV believing he could help the team. He also noted that being left out of the team prompted him to play with huge chip on his shoulder—which in turn raised his game.
“I think naturally for me, it's something that I look at because it's something I consider that I'm good at,” Feilhaber said on wanting to help the team’s midfield passing. “Whenever I watch any game, I try to see where I could fit in or what I could do to help. I'm an avid watcher of the national team. That's definitely one thing that can improve and will improve.
“There's always a sense you want to be there as well,” he added. “It's that human nature that you want to be there and try to help and play your part. But some players aren't going to get called in that deserve to be. That's true with any coach. It wasn't easy. But it's something that has fueled me not only to play as well as I can at the club level and now hopefully make it very difficult for Bruce to keep me off the national team.
"I'm excited about the opportunity if I get one and I am going to do everything I can to make it happen.”
So what does Feilhaber expect from Arena?
“I think Bruce is a players' coach,” Feilhaber said. The 2002 World Cup team "looked fearless and confident—even in the game they lost against Germany, I thought they outplayed them. That's something that we felt under Bob in that Confederations Cup run when we beat Spain. When teams are playing like that, the talent that we have is more than good enough to make a run in the World Cup. It's exciting to think about but there is a lot of work to be done the next two years. The potential is definitely there for big things.
“When you do want to play for not only yourself and your teammates but also your coach as well, it's a huge plus and it's something that's important especially in international games where you're not with your team as much,” he added. “The things that really come out are the tactics of the coach and putting players into the right positions. With the national team you definitely need to have that extra motivational factor where players want to be there, want to come in, want to play for country, teammates, and coach.
"Bruce is definitely one to get the best out of his players."
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