Feilhaber's second chance with the U.S. could be just what Arena's team needs
CARSON, Calif. -- Benny Feilhaber could barely contain himself as he left his first U.S. national team practice in almost three years.
The 1½-hour session was done, but the Sporting Kansas City midfielder looked as if he were ready for another. Feilhaber didn't have long to wait, as he took part in a second practice later on Wednesday, but he was clearly savoring the moment.
"It feels amazing; it's very exciting," he told reporters about his return to the U.S. fold. "It's something I wasn't sure would ever happen again, so it feels like a second chance and because of that it's very motivating. So I'm very excited to be back and want to make my stamp in this camp."
That second chance is down to who is in charge. Bruce Arena is now the U.S. manager, replacing Jurgen Klinsmann, who made it abundantly clear with each passing day -- at least in this cycle -- that regardless of the numbers Feilhaber put up at club level, there was no room for the midfielder.
It was a snub that Feilhaber wrestled with privately for the most part, though at last year's Major League Soccer media day he finally unloaded, saying that Klinsmann didn't pick the best players. As for his own situation, on that day he described it as "almost sad." Feilhaber concedes now that he was resigned to his fate.
"It didn't feel like I would be back," he said Wednesday as it related to the U.S. team. "I kind of turned that page a little bit in my career and tried to focus on the things that I could. I always watched the national team; it's always something I looked very fondly back on, when I did have my opportunities with the national team with Bob [Bradley], but I had kind of closed that book. To have it reopen again unexpectedly was an amazing feeling."
Feilhaber's opportunity comes at an auspicious time. The U.S. is in dead last in the final six-team round of World Cup qualifying. His skill set -- that of a creative, attacking midfielder -- is one for which the U.S. would seem to have a need.
Arena remarked that Feilhaber is "a little different than most [U.S.] players," given his passing and creativity and that he and Sacha Kljestan would both get "a good, hard look in this camp."
The question of course is: Has Feilhaber's opportunity come too late? Players often find themselves in a race against time, and the midfielder is no different. Physical ability erodes as the years pass, but experience is acquired. It makes for an odd kind of hourglass. The sand is slipping through, but any knowledge gained adds some additional grains to the top and lengthens careers. Feilhaber's greater attention to his fitness has added some years as well and helped rebuild his career in Kansas City after some barren seasons in Europe and with the New England Revolution.
"[Fitness] has always been one of my things that I've really had to work on to be at my top game," he said. "It's something I've definitely taken more seriously as my career has gone on. Other than that I think you get smarter, whether it's on the field trying to find spaces, trying to find areas where you know you're good, trying to avoid places where you might not be as good. It's a lot about being smarter, experiencing those mistakes and kind of learning from them and mostly a smarter player on and off the field at this point."
It's worth pointing out that the U.S. team's needs are more immediate at this stage. This is about acquiring results in the short term, and Feilhaber's attributes could be just what the team needs. He's shown a greater attention to defensive duties since joining Sporting KC. At minimum, he could be the kind of game-changing substitute he excelled at being when playing for the U.S. under Bradley.
"I want to bring what I've learned at the club level and my experience at the national team level six years ago to make myself a better player and a more influential player for my team," he said."
Now he'll get his chance.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.