ORLANDO, Fla. — It’s been nearly eight years since Benny Feilhaber last represented the United States in a World Cup qualifier, but on Friday night, that streak could come to an end against Panama.
Feilhaber was named to Bruce Arena’s 26-man squad for the matches against Panama at Orlando City Stadium and against Trinidad and Tobago on road next Tuesday. His call-up came as a surprise to many, to say the lease, including Feilhaber himself.
“For me, it’s a real shock to be here, to be honest,” Feilhaber told reporters after Tuesday’s training session in Sanford. “I didn’t expect to get this call, but I’m here to do whatever I can for the team and help us qualify.”
The last time Arena was in Orlando was in May, when Sporting KC was in town to take on Orlando City. Arena had the chance to watch Feilhaber play in that game, but said he didn’t speak with Feilhaber that week about a return to the national team, and hasn’t since, making this call-up a big shock for the 32-year-old.
Should Arena call on him this Friday, the United States will need everything they can get out him. A win over Panama would be crucial in attempting to secure one of the three CONCACAF spots in next summer’s World Cup. A draw, or even a loss, would make things more difficult heading into Trinidad, and could land them in a home-and-home playoff series next month against either Australia or Syria.
“I’ll just try to do the things that are my strengths, and that’s creating opportunities for our strikers, our wingers, trying to combine the midfield, trying to open up space, and try to get into the attack as well,” Feilhaber said of what he hopes to bring to the team. “If I’m called upon those will be the things that I’ll try to do. At this point, it’s anything that can help get three points that’s important.”
2017 has been the biggest season for Feilhaber, who’s numbers have been down for Kansas City. He has only five goals and three assists in 28 games, and hasn’t been called up to the national team since January camp, but Arena insists that with his current form and what he can bring to the squad, it made sense to bring him in to camp.
“Just watching him play, the kind of form he’s in, and the qualities he has, and thinking maybe there will be situation where we can utilize his skills,” he said.
Before January, Feilhaber had been basically phased out of the team by Jurgen Klinsmann, who Feilhaber voiced his displeasure with over the years, and didn’t think he would get an opportunity like this again for the United States.
“My last camp was January camp, and my last camp outside of January was I think over six years. Like I said, I can’t stress enough how much of a shock it was for me, but once you accept it and know it’s reality you focus in as if you’ve been coming every camp.” Feilhaber said. “These guys are very welcoming, and it’s easy — I know a lot of them obviously from MLS and from previous camps. I’m just happy to be here and do my job.”