KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Benny Feilhaber has already played on soccer's biggest stage, four years ago in South Africa.
If he doesn't make the US squad for this year's World Cup in his native Brazil, despite his resurgence with Sporting Kansas City and his early-season form this year, he can live with that.
“Thankfully, I had the opportunity to play in a World Cup before, and so it's a little less of a sting, I guess, so to speak,” Feilhaber told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday after being left off head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s 19-man roster for Wednesday’s friendly against Mexico.
“If this was my only opportunity to ever play, then yeah, it would be a bit tougher. But of course you always want to play at the highest level, and the World Cup is that for soccer, and that would be great. But at the same time, it's not something that I need to feel satisfied about my career.”
Feilhaber was called into Klinsmann's January camp this year and made an appearance off the bench in a friendly against South Korea, and he has been arguably Sporting's most consistent outfield player so far this season. He's the only non-goalkeeper to have started in each of Kansas City's first five matches across all competitions, scoring once in CONCACAF Champions League play and earning praise for his field vision, ball skills and energetic box-to-box play.
“He is one of the more talented American players that we have in this country, from a technical perspective,” manager Peter Vermes said on Thursday during the club's weekly news conference. “He can give the final pass. He can dribble. He can eliminate multiple guys through the dribble or the pass. He can see things on the field that others can't, and he can deliver the ball there. It's one thing to see it. He can actually do it. So he has those pieces.”
Vermes and team president Robb Heineman have both said that Feilhaber deserves a spot on the World Cup roster.
Sporting defender Matt Besler and midfielder Graham Zusi both got calls, solidifying their spots on Klinsmann's World Cup squad, and will leave to join the national team after Sporting's match at Colorado on Saturday.
Feilhaber said he wasn't surprised by the omission, and he's not holding much hope of playing in Brazil this summer.
“The past three years have kind of indicated that I've not been in Jurgen's plans too much, and I don't expect that to change overnight – or even over three, four, five months,” he said. “So I think my chances are very slim to none to go to the World Cup, but that's not going to stop me from hopefully continuing the play that I've had for the last few weeks, just to continue to play well for my club team.”
Heineman, however, said Feilhaber shouldn't give up just yet.
“Jurgen's got a plan, and he knows what he wants to do,” he said. “I think Benny, he's just got to keep doing what he wants to do, which is playing fantastic, and hopefully that'll get him a look.”
And if it doesn't, Feilhaber's OK with where he is now – a key player with the defending MLS Cup champions and a favorite of the home crowd that once chastised him for taking a while to reach Sporting's fitness standards.
“I'm the kind of guy who doesn't really insulate myself all that much,” Feilhaber said. “I know when people are talking good and talking bad about me. Either way, it doesn't get to me too much. It motivates me, both good things and bad things. Bad things, you want to prove people wrong. Good things, you want to keep hearing that kind of stuff, so you want to keep going and performing at that level.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.