Benny Feilhaber ready to make most of 'shocking' return to USMNT

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After haven fallen out of the U.S. national team picture for a second coach, Feilhaber played his way into another look at a crucial time for the USA

SANFORD, Fla. — Benny Feilhaber will be heading to Orlando City Stadium later this week and it will mark his first trip there since May, when he played in Sporting Kansas City's 2-2 draw with Orlando City.

On that same night four months ago, Bruce Arena was in the building for the announcement that the venue would be hosting a big U.S. national team World Cup qualifier against Panama.

The two never spoke that night, never crossed paths, and at the time it seemed as though the fact Arena didn't speak to Feilhaber suggested his days as a national team player were done. Even Feilhaber was left to think that last January's U.S. national team camp would be his last time with the team.

Four months later, Feilhaber is back, having earned a national team call because of his impressive form for Sporting KC, but more specifically, because the USMNT needs some added creativity in midfield. That led to Arena calling up a player he hadn't spoken to since February, surprising many, including Feilhaber.

"I can't stress enough how much of a shock it was for me," Feilhaber said on Tuesday. "Once you accept it and you know it's reality, you focus in like you've been coming in every camp. These guys are very welcoming. It's easy. I know a lot of them from MLS and from previous camps. I'm just happy to be here and do my job."

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Arena admitted that Feilhaber's play in the months since that May night in Orlando had pushed him back into the national team picture after having faded out of it.

"Just watching him play and the kind of form he is in and the kind of qualities he continues to have," Arena said, "and thinking that maybe there are situations where we can utilize his skills."

Feilhaber steps into a national team that needed more creative options in central midfield. Christian Pulisic and Darlington Nagbe have carried that load in the past, with Clint Dempsey occasionally being deputized into the role even though he's better suited to play closer to goal with the national team.

Though Feilhaber hasn't been brought in to start, he does give the team another creative option in central midfield who can allow a Nagbe or Pulisic to shift wide if the U.S. is in search of a goal.

As easy as it might be to forget, Feilhaber also has considerable big-game experience in a national team uniform. That will come in handy heading into Friday's clash with Panama, which will go a long way in determining if the United States makes it to the 2018 World Cup.

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From his unforgettable game-winning goal to beat Mexico in the 2007 Gold Cup final, to his performances off the bench at the 2010 World Cup, Feilhaber knows what it means to deliver in big moments, and that's experience Arena will turn to if the Americans find themselves searching for an important goal.

For Feilhaber, the call-up is a chance he isn't about to let go to waste, and it's one he firmly believes he deserves.

"I've always believed in what I can bring," Feilhaber said. "When I did come in for the national team, I always felt a great sense of pride in playing here. I was extra motivated whenever I was called in. It's nothing different for me. I know what the international game is like.

"I have a little more experience, a little bit older, and that can be a good and a bad thing but I feel confident that I can make a difference and help the team."
 

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