The fallout from U.S. Soccer’s decision to fire men’s national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann and reinstate Bruce Arena will be known in the coming days, weeks and months.
For Sporting Kansas City midfielder Benny Feilhaber, the effect could hit close to home.
After Feilhaber dropped out of favor with Klinsmann — despite producing what Feilhaber calls his best seasons as a professional — the national team coaching change could open the door for a new opportunity.
Well, an old one actually. Feilhaber, 31, made 41 appearances for the United States men’s national team from 2007-14. But he has not been called up since a January camp in 2014.
“The question regarding players such as Feilhaber and (Jonathan) Bornstein, as you mentioned, I think they and others are good players. We’re going to give those types of players an opportunity to be back in the national team program,” Arena said during an introductory teleconference Tuesday. “I’m well aware of the qualities of those two and others. We’re going to look closely at those players as we begin a domestic camp in January and ultimately select a roster for the games in March.”
While frequently asked about the subject over the past three seasons, Feilhaber was candid in his displeasure with Klinsmann’s player selection. More recently, he took issue with the lack of identity displayed by the national team.
On Monday, after news of Klinsmann’s departure spread across social media, Feilhaber tweeted an emoji of a smiley face.
“A different coach always has different ideas and different player selection, so that is a benefit for me personally because I really had no shot with Jurgen as a coach,” Feilhaber said in a phone interview Tuesday. “Hopefully I can get an opportunity. If I do, I’ll try to seize it. I’ve always said that playing on the national team is a huge privilege. Nobody is given that as a freebie. So it will have to be earned.”
During his initial tenure with the U.S. from 1998-2006, Arena twice called up Feilhaber, though Feilhaber didn’t see the field in either match. Instead, he made his national team playing debut under Bob Bradley in 2007. He was a regular under Bradley, appearing in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
But Feilhaber didn’t receive much time under Klinsmann. In 2015, when Feilhaber finished third in MLS most valuable player voting, Klinsmann was asked about Feilhaber’s national team omission and replied, “There are other ones ahead of him.”
Over the past two seasons, Feilhaber has 17 goals and 28 assists in Kansas City.
“I always loved my time with the national team,” Feilhaber said. “It’s a different type of soccer than club soccer. There are things about it that I really enjoyed. I always wished I had more of an opportunity under Jurgen, but it wasn’t meant to be.
“If I do get an opportunity now, I’m going to be very ambitious about it and try to make it very difficult for (Arena) to leave me out.”
The United States is 0-2 in the CONCACAF hexagonal for 2018 World Cup qualifying, prompting Klinsmann’s departure. The Americans resume their qualifying schedule in March.
While Feilhaber has been left off the U.S. rosters, Sporting KC players Matt Besler and Graham Zusi have been fixtures for the national team for the past few seasons. Arena said he plans to use the January camp to analyze the player pool moving forward.
“There’s no doubt that if I get called into the January camp, I’m going to do everything I can in terms of being prepared to play as well as I possibly can during the camp,” Feilhaber said. “I will continue to say that I’m a better player in the middle of the season when I’m playing games consistently, but a lot of guys will say the same thing. That’s not going to be an excuse come January.
“I’ll get myself prepared and hope I get the opportunity.”