Sadly for Sporting KC’s midfielder Benny Feilhaber, he didn’t even make it to the preliminary round. He wasn’t the only notable snub: Former Wizards Eddie Johnson and Herculez Gomez, defender Tim Ream, and midfielders Brek Shea and Sacha Kljestan were also left out of the team. To some national writers,those guys missing the cut is a bigger deal than Feilhaber
. Which sort of tells you how far he had fallen off the national team radar.
The case for Feilhaber this year is a pretty good one. World Cup vet.He once did this. Responsible for this
. The starting midfielder for one of the league’s best teams. Since last November, he’s been one of the top two-way midfielders in MLS. So far this season he’s surprisingly also among the most-fit players in the league.*
*Benny has played all but one minute of MLS action this year. Let that sink in. All but one minute. Only Eric Kronberg — who has played every minute — has topped him.
So, why didn’t Benny make the cut?
Most likely, he spent too much time off the radar, took too long to get back on it and plays a position that doesn’t have a lot of room for extra players.
He wasn’t always off the radar.
Back in 2010 under Bob Bradley, Feilhaber was a part of the 23-man roster in South Africa. As a 25-year-old, he made three substitute appearances. It seemed like he’d be a part of the U.S. set up for the foreseeable future.
Then his career stalled in Denmark. The stall continued during an inconsistent stint with New England and even through much of his first year with Kansas City. While he’s come back into form since the MLS Cup playoffs, it hasn’t been enough.
The sad reality is that Feilhaber is a member of a generation of U.S. players who either had their international careers derailed by injury, bad form, bad club moves or a combination of all three: Oguchi Onyewu, Stuart Holden, Ricardo Clark, Jose Francisco Torres, Maurice Edu and Robbie Findley. All were on the 23-man roster in South Africa; only Edu — himself a big come-back story — is on the 30-man roster just four years later.
Since 2011, Feilhaber has played only 137 minutes in a U.S. jersey. This includes not making the cut last year on an MLS-heavy Gold Cup roster. That was a bad sign for his chances this year, especially because he had been invited to the January training camp. (He was part of this year’s January camp too.)
In such a massive year — the U.S. played 23 games in 2013 between World Cup qualifying (10), the Gold Cup (6) and friendlies (7) — Feilhaber only saw the field for 45 minutes. Against Canada.
During 2013, he registered the fewest minutes in a national team jersey of any regular or fringe central midfielder with a cap.
•Jermaine Jones: 12 games, 925 minutes
•Michael Bradley: 10 games, 900 minutes
•Mix Diskerud: 13 games, 714 minutes
•Kyle Beckerman: 10 games, 680 minutes
• Sacha Kljestan: 7 games, 319 minutes
•Maurice Edu: 4 games, 131 minutes
• Stuart Holden: 8 games, 361 minutes
• Danny Williams: 1 game, 57 minutes
• Benny Feilhaber: 1 game, 45 minutes
Those in bold were included on the World Cup roster. It’s hard to argue any of those five should’ve been left out so Feilhaber could sneak in.
Bradley and Jones are the incumbent starters. Bradley plays in the Feilhaber two-way midfield role.
Diskerud is a flexible attack-minded midfielder who can push the game from the bench. He’s also 23 and is part of the future of the U.S. midfield.
Beckerman is as reliable as any defensive midfielder in the national team set-up.
Edu likely beat out Feilhaber for that last spot*. While he’s having a solid year with the Philadelphia Union, he was probably included because, tactically, he’s more versatile than Feilhaber. Klinsmann can use Edu late in games to cover any midfield position and, in a pinch, could be deployed as a center back.
*I’m puzzled by Kljestan not making the list personally. He’s a very consistent performer for his club side in Belgium. (Of course, speculation that he is coming back to MLS this summer might have unsettled his spot on the roster.)
That’s a hard group to crack, especially with Klinsmann needing extra roster spots to deal with more pressing needs at outside back and forward.
While Feilhaber’s play as been very strong lately, for Klinsmann apparently it wasn’t enough and it came too late to make a difference.
His snub might turn out to be a good thing for Kansas City — without Zusi around, Feilhaber will be the team’s primary creative influence.