The United States’ 1-0 friendly win over Jamaica on Friday carried a distinct Sporting Kansas City essence.
Graham Zusi donned the captain’s armband for the first time at the international level, taking the next step in his acclimation to right back with a sound 68-minute performance at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He contributed to a stifling defensive effort that saw Jamaica muster zero shots on target but also reminded viewers of his attacking penchant, testing goalkeeper Ryan Thompson with a thunderous strike in the second half.
Zusi’s club teammate, however, may have stolen the show.
Benny Feilhaber, earning his first U.S. start in more than five years, assisted Jordan Morris’ match-winning strike in the 59th minute and was involved in two other scoring opportunities on an evening he made a strong claim for inclusion in next month’s World Cup qualifiers.
National pundits took notice, lauding Feilhaber as one of the night’s best players.
- “A creative force in the middle of the field during the entirety of his 60 minutes but really showed his quality by setting up the Jordan Morris goal.” – Jason Davis, ESPN FC
- “Look no further than the goal he set up for Jordan Morris in the second half on Friday. Yes, Morris gets his name on the score sheet, but make no mistake about it: it's Feilhaber's goal. He played with creativity and flair all night – qualities the USMNT can often lack – and was the driving force behind the USMNT's good attacking moments. It's not quite clear what formation Arena sees as the way forward, but Feilhaber is capable of creating magic from a No. 10 role, and he proved what a game-changer her is on Friday.” – Caitlin Murray, FOX Sports
- “Of course, players in (Feilhaber’s) position are typically judged by production above all, and Feilhaber expertly set up the lone goal with not one, but two beautiful lay-offs to Morris on the winning play.” – Greg Seltzer, MLSsoccer.com
- “if you provide him the support behind in midfield, he’s more than capable of picking out the final pass, which is something the U.S. has been lacking in recent years.” – Paul Tenorio, FourFourTwo
- “There are many players that can make average plays, but can you make a special play? Benny made a special play tonight.” – Landon Donovan, FS1 soccer analyst
The U.S. MNT now turns its attention to a pair of all-important World Cup qualifiers versus Honduras on March 24 and at Panama on March 28. Feilhaber, Zusi and Matt Besler are candidates for selection to head coach Bruce Arena’s squad as the Americans look to climb up the Hexagonal standings.
With January Camp under their belts, Feilhaber and Zusi will link up with Sporting Kansas City for its second phase of the 2017 preseason, presented by Children’s Mercy. The club will participate in the Desert Diamond Cup from Feb. 15-25 at Kino Sports Complex in Tucson, Arizona.