Benny Feilhaber is not a fan of Jurgen Klinsmann's. The Sporting Kansas City midfielder, who has been in fantastic form for two years and has failed to crack the national team, hit out at the United States manager, claiming he continually fails to pick the best team available to him.
"I don’t think that Jurgen calls in the best players that are available to him," Feilhaber told reporters on Tuesday at an MLS media event. "That, for me, is a problem. There’s players that are better than other players that don’t get an opportunity with the national team. That, for me, is a much bigger deal than anything else. Everybody points fingers at certain things but for me that’s the most important thing."
Feilhaber cited Matt Hedges, Sacha Kljestan, Dax McCarty and Eric Lichaj as players who have played well, but have gone ignored by Klinsmann.
"That is my biggest problem with how Jurgen selects his players. It’s not based on on-field performance. I don’t know what it’s based on, but it’s not based on on-field performance."
The problem with this line of thinking is it suggests that a national team should always call in the best, most in-form players. But doing so wouldn't necessarily make for the best team. There's a matter of finding players that complement each other and fit a system, not to mention have good chemistry and the need to create a culture inside the team.
Feilhaber's examples also aren't the greatest players to cite, for a couple reasons.
The first is that Hedges, Kljestan and McCarty have all been called into multiple national team camps under Klinsmann, or been called up to January camp, which provides them with several weeks of training. While they may not have gotten a chance to prove themselves in a match, the coaching staff got a very long look at them in training. It's not as if they have been entirely ignored. They've had their chances and to say they "don’t get an opportunity" is patently wrong.
The other is that none of the players Feilhaber listed are that good. Can you argue that one of them would be an improvement over someone who has played for the U.S. in the last couple years, or would generally be worth calling in for January camp? Sure, they're all fine players who wouldn't look out of place in a camp and even a friendly. But will any of those players make a gigantic difference for the U.S.? Could you imagine a single one of them starting at a World Cup, or Copa America? Even being a vital substitute? There's little chance they fill one of those roles.
Feilhaber's complaint is that Klinsmann has made egregious errors in not calling in marginal players who could hold their own and potentially fill out the bottom of some national team rosters. The argument and debate over these players, and the other players of their ilk who are of roughly the same quality, is unimportant. It's a fun thing to debate and talk about with your friends, but it doesn't really matter. It only matters to the players themselves, and their friends and family, which Feilhaber happens to be one of. So you can see where he's coming from, but it's not fair to lay the blame at Klinsmann's feet as if it is a major failing on the manager's part.
Every player who you could imagine making a major impact for the U.S. has gotten call-ups. Most are playing for the team and a regular inclusion on rosters. There are scant few capable of making a significant difference that are not, and one of those could be Feilhaber. He has a gripe in not being called up, although at this point it's fair to say that it has less to do with his play and more Klinsmann's belief that he's not a fit for the national team. There's a personality clash there between Klinsmann and Feilhaber and those aren't often mended.
But such differences are not rare. Every manager has a few players who they overrate and adore, while also having a couple that they clash with or cannot see fitting in their system or culture. That includes Klinsmann, as well as Bob Bradley, Bruce Arena, and even Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho and Vicente del Bosque.
Feilhaber, for his part, doesn't expect a national team call anymore.
"I’ve accepted the fact that Jurgen’s not going to call me," Feilhaber said. "If I played the year that I played this last year and I’m not getting the call, I’m not going to get an opportunity under Jurgen. That’s something I just have to accept."
Feilhaber is probably right. It was tough to imagine him getting another look under Klinsmann already, and these comments probably seal that. But that doesn't make his prior comments any more valid.
The national team isn't an all-star team. Klinsmann is charged with putting together the best team, not the best players, and that goes beyond soccer skills. Whether you agree or disagree with his selections, it's difficult to claim that he's being unfairly close-minded about which players he's calling in, failing to give any magnificent players a chance, or even showing more favoritism that any other manager. You may simply disagree with him. Feilhaber does and that's entirely fair, especially in the wake of failing results, but he probably should leave it at that because the rest of it doesn't have much standing.