112613_isi_feilhaberbenny_mlsbb3302013_68 Bill Barrett/isiphotos.com
Player Spotlight

Benny Feilhaber Finally Finding Success with SKC

Talented but inconsistent, the 28-year-old playmaker is enjoying the best soccer of his club career. Can he parlay a big performance in the MLS Cup into another chance with the U.S. national team?

BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
November 26, 2013
2:31 PM
BENNY FEILHABER HAS ALWAYS BEEN something of an enigma. There is no doubting his quality on the ball and his tendency to rise to the occasion in important games for the United States national team. But the midfielder has another side to his game—inconsistency—and he has struggled to settle in with multiple clubs.

He began his career at Hamburg and eventually moved his way up the Bundesliga. He then transferred to Derby County in England, where minutes were scarce. His third spell in Europe was at AGF Aarhus, but the club was relegated to the second tier of the Danish Superliga in his final season in Europe.

In 2012, he returned to the United States to play with the New England Revolution but the club declined to exercise its option after just one MLS season. Shortly afterward, he signed with Sporting Kansas City, and for the first time in his career he has been able to consistently show his quality on a weekly basis.

Feilhaber, 28, has been one of Sporting’s most effective players in the playoffs and produced terrific efforts against both New England and Houston. On Saturday he set up Dom Dwyer’s game-winning goal to put Kansas City through to MLS Cup 2013.

The Brazilian-born Feilhaber acknowledges that this season has been one of the best for him in his club career.

“It’s going great, that’s for sure,” Feilhaber told American Soccer Now. “I think this season has been pretty good for myself and my team. There are obviously ups and downs the entire way. I’ve played pretty consistently this season—more so than I have probably in most club seasons in my career. I attribute that to my team and the way we play and what’s required to play at that level."

"I feel really confident.”

With Sporting Kansas City, Feilhaber has carved out a role for himself in head coach Peter Vermes' attack-first approach. Along with midfielders Graham Zusi and Paulo Nagamura, Feilhaber has been able to play in a creative system with the ball on the ground.

After assisting on the decisive goal against Houston, Feilhaber admitted to the media that it took an act of “faith” for Vermes and Sporting to bring him to the team. Now heading into the 2013 MLS Cup, which will be played in Kansas City, that faith has been rewarded.

Following the win over Houston, Vermes said that Feilhaber’s performance showed precisely why he is so valuable to Sporting KC.

“I said to him that that was why we brought him here,” Vermes said in the postgame news conference. “His ability to open up a defense is exactly what we were looking for.”

Now with MLS Cup looming, Feilhaber will have the opportunity to play perhaps the biggest club game of his career. A veteran of the World Cup, the Gold Cup, and the Confederations Cup, Feilhaber will be one of the most experienced players in Major League Soccer's 2013 showpiece. He also believes that the home field advantage will be an edge for Sporting KC, which enjoys some of the best support he has ever witnessed as a player.

“Obviously there’s the World Cup and some international competitions that I’ve played in, but I’ve never played in an environment like the other night in such a critical game,” Feilhaber said. “You have 20,000 fans behind you and you can really feel them and sense them while you’re playing. That’s the first time I’ve ever really felt that.”

What lies beyond the MLS Cup for Feilhaber is an open question. There is the U.S. national team’s annual January camp to consider, but it is unclear how highly Jurgen Klinsmann rates him. Feilhaber has been capped 40 times with the senior team but his only two appearances under Klinsmann have come in the January camp. His most recent cap was last January when he came on as a second half substitute in a 0-0 draw against Canada.

The upcoming January camp will likely be the last chance for Feilhaber before the World Cup. It is a goal for him to return to the team for the tournament in his native Brazil, but he downplays the opportunity for now since it is out of his hands and hasn’t been with the team for nearly a year.

“I think that’s always a goal,” Feilhaber said of making a national team comeback.

“It’s not something you think about day in and day out," he added. "You have it in the back of your mind. The initial goal is to obviously do well with my club team and help us win the MLS Cup. What comes after that is a little out of my hands. If I do get another opportunity, it will be a time to try to prove my worth. We'll see if that time comes.”

Do you think Feilhaber could help the U.S. in Brazil? Think he has a shot at making the team? Tell us below.

Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.

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