Here in Phoenix, the USA’s 20-man roster fits the typical profile for a January camp: a group of mostly MLS-based players who are young, inexperienced, and hoping to make a good impression at the dawn of their international careers. And then you see two names that stand out: 2010 FIFA World Cup veterans Benny Feilhaber and Ricardo Clark. Each came to the annual January camp as established players who are looking to launch a renaissance of their National Team careers.
Having collected his last cap Oct. 12, 2010, against Colombia, Feilhaber was named to the roster for the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup but was forced to withdraw because of an ankle injury suffered before the start of the tournament. Clark’s most recent appearance in camp came at Jurgen Klinsmann’s first match in charge, the 1-1 draw against Mexico in August of last year, but he has not earned a cap since he represented the U.S. in two matches at the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Now that the players have another chance to impress the National Team staff, they plan on capitalizing on their opportunity. But both men admit waiting for that elusive call-up can be difficult.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s tough,” Feilhaber said. “You always want to get called in, and you definitely always value the opportunity to come in into the National Team because it’s always an honor and a privilege, and there’s so many players that have the skill set to be part of it. It wasn’t an easy last six months not being called into the National Team. But now that I got my chance, I get to prove it to Jurgen and his staff that I should be involved, and hopefully that’s what I’m going to be able to do in this camp.”
Clark has been biding his time since August focusing on improving at a club level with Eintracht Frankfurt in Germany.
“I’ve been training and playing scrimmage games,” Clark said. “When I’m not playing with the first team, I’m playing with the second team. I just try to stay fit and try to stay on top of my form as much as possible, so that’s how I’ve dealt with it.”
Because the annual January camp does not fall on FIFA international fixture dates, most of the players called in are domestically based, making Feilhaber and Clark two of the most veteran men on the roster. Feilhaber joined the New England Revolution in April 2011 after three seasons with AGF Aarhus in Denmark. Clark is one of only two international players in the camp, along with FC Nordsjaelland’s Michael Parkhurst.
Even with their years of experience in huge games for the United States, the January camp still brings a different challenge.
“It’s a tough camp to be in because you have to show your best, and you know that you have to show maybe better than the other guys because you don’t know who’s going to be called in for qualifying when it really matters,” Feilhaber said. “All that experience – playing with the National Team in pressure situations, playing overseas and in big games – that obviously helps mentally with being able to approach the trainings and games when they come.”
For Clark, playing in important tournaments with the U.S. not only helps him to be better prepared for camps, it also allows him to be a leader to some of the younger players.
“It’s always good to have that experience under your belt because you can kind of gauge yourself and gauge your body and know what to expect,” Clark said. “You can encourage some of the younger players who don’t have that experience and give them some advice on what to expect.”
For Feilhaber, the January camp represents the first time he has trained under Klinsmann. His initial impression of the new coach is one with big ideas.
“We’ve had a lot of filled days this first week of camp,” Feilhaber said. “[Klinsmann] really wants to focus in on our fitness, our diet, and the way we do things off the field. He definitely wants us to be doing things the right way so that it can reflect on the football field. It’s obviously a good coaching staff, and it’s good to be working with them.”
The U.S. Men have their sights set on the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and that process begins this summer with CONCACAF qualifying right around the corner. Having already experienced a World Cup, both players want to be a part of the U.S. squad that would travel to Brazil.
“It’s an unbelievable experience to play in a World Cup, and I just want to better my performance individually and as a team in the next World Cup,” Clark said. “That’s three years down the road, so I kind of want to take it one day at a time. If it’s supposed to be, then it’s supposed to be.”
Born in Rio de Janeiro, Feilhaber has more personal reasons for wanting to compete in the 2014 World Cup.
“For me, it’s even a little added incentive because it’s being played in Brazil, and that’s where my whole family is from,” Feilhaber said. “It starts in this camp, but of course the ultimate goal is to make the World Cup squad.”
With the games against Venezuela and Panama on the horizon, both players will be looking to earn their first caps in more than a year. More importantly, they want to put their names in the mix for the next time Jurgen Klinsmann is making the call on who gets the call to be a part of U.S. National Team.