Benny Feilhaber had his chance, Dempsey part of U.S. plan - Klinsmann
CARSON, California - U.S. national team manager Jurgen Klinsmann has a simple response to comments by Sporting Kansas City midfielder Benny Feilhaber regarding his international exile.
You had your chance.
Feilhaber, speaking at the annual MLS Media Day on Tuesday, took aim at Klinsmann over his exclusion from the U.S. team, as well as the omission of players like New York Red Bulls midfielder Dax McCarty, FC Dallas defender Matt Hedges and Red Bulls attacker Sacha Kljestan.
"I don't think that Jurgen calls in the best players that are available to him," Feilhaber said at a roundtable with reporters. "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, 31, is coming off the best season of his career, tallying 10 goals and 15 assists for a Sporting KC side that claimed the U.S. Open Cup. It was enough to earn the Rio de Janeiro native a spot on the MLS Best XI, but not a recall to the national team.
Feilhaber, a veteran of the Americans' 2010 World Cup team, hasn't featured for the U.S. since appearing against Korea Republic in February of 2014.
"It's not going to happen [and] this last season was my best, full comprehensive season as a professional," Feilhaber said in an earlier interview with ESPN FC. "I'm playing the best soccer I have in my career. If I'm not getting an opportunity with the national team now then I need to accept that it's not going to happen. At least not under Jurgen Klinsmann."
But Klinsmann noted that Feilhaber's perspective is that of a player while his is that of a coach. He insisted that he continues to monitor the play of McCarty, Hedges, and Kljestan. But the U.S. manager noted that Feilhaber has had multiple opportunities.
"We had [Feilhaber] several times with us, and he was not able to make a mark," said Klinsmann in an exclusive interview. "Benny unfortunately was never able to step up to an international level with me. Whatever was before was before.
"We gave him the opportunity a couple of times in our environment and he was never able to put a stamp on the game. That's why he's not invited here, because he's not on my level, not consistent enough."
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When it was pointed out that Feilhaber had an outstanding 2015 campaign, Klinsmann indicated that the player's success came mostly in the first half of the season, and that Kansas City manager Peter Vermes actually started Feilhaber on the bench in the last regular season game. But Klinsmann stressed that his broader point is that there are many factors that go into building a roster, and every coaching staff takes a different approach.
"We coaches over a longer period of time, we see how everybody performs, and we make up our own mind," said Klinsmann. "And then every player has to fit into what we are actually doing. So you can certainly argue about individual players. He just might not match what we are looking for, or how we want to play. Or how we put the pieces together.
"There are many different aspects to the game. There's the playing side, the chemistry side, it's how people match. What is the dynamic of the group, and so on. So many points come into the decision as to why some people are part of it then and why some people aren't part of it."
While there is no spot for Feilhaber, Klinsmann said that the same isn't true for Seattle Sounders attacker Clint Dempsey, and he confirmed that Dempsey was given the option of sitting out January camp.
"Clint is still in our plans," said Klinsmann. "But it's also our responsibility to think about future, to think down the road about what happens two-and-a-half years from now. How does the roster look like in 2018? What do we need to do in the short-term, and to get the results to satisfy everybody, and what do we need to do in the long run?
"In order to prepare the long run we have to here and there tell the older guys, 'You've got to step aside now. We've got to try these guys out.' But it doesn't mean that you are forgotten. No. There comes the moment when if the picture allows it the right way, Clint is back, and hopefully back scoring."
After a 2015 season that saw him struggle with hamstring injuries, Dempsey told ESPN FC that he's more than willing to still represent the U.S. but his focus will be on his club.
"I'm just making sure I'm available to play in games and I'm playing well," Dempsey said. "That's what I'm focused on. If you're playing well, you always put yourself in a position to be available for selection. I'm just looking forward to the season really, and be healthy and enjoy my ball."