Benny Feilhaber’s long-lasting, oft-publicized, frequently-debated United States men’s national-team absence has finally reached its conclusion.
Feilhaber, Sporting Kansas City’s playmaking midfielder, has been called into the national team’s January camp for the first time since 2014. Not coincidentally, it’s the first U.S. camp under recently-hired coach Bruce Arena, who replaced Jürgen Klinsmann.
Sporting KC veteran Graham Zusi will join Feilhaber in Carson, Calif., from Jan. 10-Feb. 3, overlapping the start of the Sporting KC preseason. The U.S. will face Serbia (Jan. 29) and Jamaica (Feb. 3) in friendlies.
“This is an opportunity that I’ve been waiting for,” Feilhaber said in the announcement. “I’m appreciative that Bruce has given me the chance to prove myself again on the international stage.
“Every player is entering January camp with a clean slate, and I plan to make the most of the opportunity given to me.”
Sporting KC defender Matt Besler will skip the winter camp after undergoing offseason ankle surgery.
His rare absence coincides with Feilhaber’s rare call-up. Feilhaber, 31, has made 41 appearances for the U.S. but none under Klinsmann since 2014. All but three of those caps came between 2007-10.
Feilhaber repeatedly said he had given up his hope of playing with the national team while Klinsmann was in charge. He also criticized Klinsmann’s refusal to call up other well-performing MLS players. Klinsmann was fired in November.
Over the past two seasons, Feilhaber has 17 goals and 28 assists with Sporting Kansas City. That’s the second-best combination among all MLS midfielders. He finished third in Major League Soccer MVP voting in 2015.
“It’s well-deserved,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. “I applaud Bruce. It’s his team, but obviously he’s inviting a lot of guys in and opening himself up to seeing as many guys as he can. I think Benny has deserved the opportunity. Credit to Benny. And credit to Bruce for taking a look at him.”
All 32 players on Arena’s roster are in MLS. Because it is not a FIFA international window, only players whose teams are not in season are eligible.
Zusi, 30, has made 42 appearances for the national team and was a regular under Klinsmann since his first call-up in 2012.
But Zusi will also encounter an apparent change. He is listed as a defender on the roster, and he will presumably play right outside back under Arena. Zusi played the position a couple of times during the 2016 season with Sporting KC, including once against Arena’s LA Galaxy.
“It’s an honor every time you get named to a national-team roster,” Zusi said. “I’m excited to work with Bruce and his staff as we continue to push toward our goal of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.”