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Jurgen Klinsmann addresses Benny Feilhaber’s status

Feb 4, 2013, 2:02 PM EDT

U.S. soccer player Benny Feilhaber in Co

It’s interesting to see where Jurgen Klinsmann strategically picks his spots to be a little more revealing about those highly scrutinized personnel choices.

Sometimes he just says “This Guy” is ahead of “That Guy” and leaves it there. (Still more than you get from some coaches.)

Other times, the U.S. manager drops the bucket deeper into the knowledge well and pulls out a little more for consumption from a thirsty public. We get that today with the mercurial Benny Feilhaber.

So many U.S. Soccer supporters wonder why Feilhaber, a technically gifted midfielder who was part of the American World Cup team two-and-half years back in South Africa, cannot gain more traction under Klinsmann.

Feilhaber had one appearance last year. It lasted 61 minutes in a February friendly … then he was gone. For the rest of the year Feilhaber got as many minutes as Thomas Dooley – and he hasn’t been part of the program for 15 years.

So the January camp and the friendly against Canada represented huge opportunity for Feilhaber, who hasn’t always assimilated smoothly into the larger group dynamic. Klinsmann said Monday that Feilhaber had a good camp and left a “really positive impression” on the staff.

“And also he played a really decent second half against Canada,” Klinsmann said.

(MORE: Foursome of notable omissions, including Feilhaber)

So why, then, was Feilhaber not part of the 24-man selection announced Monday for this week’s World Cup qualifier against Honduras? Clearly, the technical ability is there. Even Klinsmann says so.

“He’s right there! He is always in our discussion when we put a roster together,” Klinsmann said via teleconference Monday.

When asked (OK … When I asked … ) if Klinsmann could help us understand what Feilhaber needed to get himself past this plateau, the U.S. coach did take us a little deeper.

“We want him to become more of a ‘pusher’ in terms of being more involved in the game. And on a consistent basis, meaning every couple minutes, every two or three minutes. Here and there it seems like he is fading out and then coming back in.

“He’s a little inconsistent, but he’s working on that. That has to do obviously with the technical approach, but also with the physicality of the game, the rhythm and the pace of the game.”

Klinsmann mentioned conversations with Sporting Kansas City manager Peter Vermes about this very subject and predicted that SKC’s demanding coach will push Feilhaber to improve on those very elements. Given Sporting’s high pressure, go-go style, Feilhaber will have little choice. If he drifts or becomes too static for SKC it will be obvious to everyone to see, because his teammates will be zipping and zooming at a measurably greater speed around him.

Klinsmann also mentioned “time lines” and “urgency.” Here the message to all players could not be clearer: It’s time! Make a move now, get into the qualifiers – or risk being left behind for Brazil 2014. That, of course, is almost every soccer players’ dream, to find themselves in a World Cup.

“We think he absolutely has the qualities, has the technical ability to be part of the inner circle of the national team,” Klinsmann said. “Not being called in for this game doesn’t mean he’s out of the picture.

“We expect for Benny to push it now, to show with his club team and when he has a chance coming into our group. Because with World Cup qualifiers and [this summer’s CONCACAF] Gold Cup, there will be opportunities for Benny coming up.”

  1. crossmlk - Feb 4, 2013 at 3:41 PM

    Sounds like Klinsmann is using the venerable carrot and stick method with Benny. The stick being you’re not invited to this qualifier. The carrot being kind words and the chance to make the team if only he’ll up his game some. Given that most of Benny’s family is still in Brazil with the world cup being there this time I think he’s got a real chance to get Benny very motivated.

  2. docstraw - Feb 4, 2013 at 3:44 PM

    fair point he makes about Benny … vs Canada he wasn’t dictating the pace of the game as much as he was doing nice things with the ball when he had it at his feet. It’s amazing that he has been unable to lock down a place with a club team for any extended amount of time but perhaps a lack of consistency dooms him at each stop. Didn’t see a lot of him with NE last year … Interesting that he mentions the physicality part as well.

  3. jlbitterling - Feb 4, 2013 at 3:45 PM

    if wants pushers , how can Torres be on his roster ?

  4. bigdinla - Feb 4, 2013 at 4:10 PM

    BF is much better than Kljiestan, Torres, Evans or Davis. He is the nearest the USMNT comes to a true orchestrator. JK’s insistence on gritty players over skill is getting ridiculous!

    • jmansor - Feb 4, 2013 at 10:02 PM

      If he is really considering Benny that is a good thing. Benny has rare abilities for the US, I would love to know that he thinks that Torres brings to the team because all I see him is dribble into triple coverage and not push the play. Benny at least tries to make incisive passes.

  5. wfjackson3 - Feb 4, 2013 at 11:17 PM

    Great reporting guys. I guess this really does make sense. Feilhaber, for all of his obvious skill, does not demand that the game run through him like a Bradley does. And I don’t mean in the “give me the damn ball sense” but the sense that he works to be in position at all times, to be the guy who is available to make that pass.

    If Benny gets his consistency up, as Klinsmann is demanding, then he could be at least a veritable backup for Bradley, preventing that unholy dropoff in performance when he is out.

    Again, great work. Thanks guys.

  6. schmutzdeck - Feb 4, 2013 at 11:51 PM

    Have any of you followed Benny since 2007 when he first broke into the USMNT set up?

    Because this inconsistency and lack of committment has characterized Benny since that time.

    He tends to start well. In 2007 when he and MB90 started out as the USMNT central pairing they looked good and I thought they would be the US central midfield pair for the next eight years.

    But Benny hasn’t been able to remain consistent. With the US under BB he worked himself from being a starter to being a thirty minute, second half specialist, seemingly unable to maintain his consistency over the course of the entire game and certainly not for the entire campaign.

    If JK can find a way to help Benny to figure out how to maintain his focus over the course of an entire game, that would be a big boost.

  7. player169 - Feb 5, 2013 at 8:20 AM

    Completely agree. In the Canada game despite his excellent passes, he was often out of position or loafing (like Henry in NY). That won’t fly in KC where Vermes will demand constant intensity. Hopefully Fel will use the USMNT as a source of motivation to start to play that style of soccer….

    • wfjackson3 - Feb 5, 2013 at 11:17 AM

      I didn’t see him loafing at all in the Canada game. On the contrary, it seemed like almost the entire team except for Gatt and BF were loafing.

  8. player169 - Feb 5, 2013 at 12:05 PM

    Loafing might be a bad descriptor, however at that level, there is no excuse for casual jogging or a lack of a sprint to get in position. There were a few noticeable instances in the Canada game. I’m a KC fan, so I was focusing in on BF a lot having not really followed his play in NE (Did follow in WC days). He had some great passes and certainly has a sharp mind and an eye for the field…however, simple triangle/passing lane positioning and his lack of effort to get to where he should be was glaring on a couple of occasions. Could have been an option for Gatt when he broke to the middle a couple times, but was already to far out of position to be an option. I’m just a washed up player and certainly don’t have the credentials Klinsman and his coaches have, but I noticed it and I’m glad that the coaching staff isn’t afraid to evaluate and dish their opinions to the players. It’s going to be good for US soccer.

    In comparison, Zusi is a motor and is constantly sprinting to either get the ball back or be in the right position to give his teammates options. That intensity is probably what Klinsman is looking for Fel to develop. I feel like I’m pretty objective when it comes to evaluating players.

    I can be critical of Zusi too…great in open space, but not the greatest when pressured by defenders. His ball skills aren’t elite and thus he has a tendency to give up possession when pressured.

    • wfjackson3 - Feb 5, 2013 at 4:30 PM

      Also a SKC fan, and I have been a fan of the ability BF brings to the field since the last cycle.

      I agree with you on Zusi. He doesn’t have the ball skills or the confidence on ball to beat a guy straight up. He can beat a guy to the end line often enough.

      I don’t know, I guess I saw something different from BF. I noticed him getting mad at his teammates for being out of position more than I noticed him out of position. He does have a tendency to jog more than I would like from a CM, but he hasn’t ever really been the type of midfielder to go press for a shot, so its not like he is going to go on a dead sprint to be in position for a shot. I certainly see what you mean though. I just don’t think it was happening very much against Canada.

  9. player169 - Feb 5, 2013 at 4:56 PM

    All valid points. Go SKC and USA!

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