Former Sporting KC star Feilhaber talks World Cup, makes his pick for U.S.-Netherlands

The United States Men’s National Team clinched its spot in the FIFA World Cup’s round of 16 with an emotional and physical soccer victory against Iran on Tuesday in Qatar.

How the USMNT has navigated its group-stage games — drawing in the first two, including vs. England, before getting a 1-0 win in its most recent game, against Iran — is a pattern that exhibits some similarities to the United States’ 2010 team.

Sporting KC II manager Benny Feilhaber was a member of the 2010 squad. That team fought back late against Slovenia to earn a 2-2 draw, setting up Landon Donovan’s thrilling stoppage-time winner against Algeria.

“I think (former U.S. coach) Bob (Bradley) set it up kind of spur of the moment, but he allowed families to come and visit the players because it hadn’t been allowed until that point,” Feilhaber said. “During that night, it was a celebration. But the next day, it was back to business.”

American star Christian Pulisic, taken to the hospital following a collision as he scored the winning goal, welcomed his teammates back to the hotel with cheers and hugs. And family and staff cheered on members of the team as they made their way back to their base camp.

But preparations for the Netherlands began early Wednesday, and that was likewise true for Feilhaber and company in 2010.

“We were excited about the draw itself,” Feilhaber said. “We thought Ghana was a team that we could battle toe to toe with and took it like any other game. I think we were very focused. We definitely were not looking past them.”

Donovan’s memorable goal wasn’t enough to lift the Americans past Ghana. The Ghanaians won the match 2-1 in extra time because the USMNT couldn’t capitalize on its few chances.

The U.S. held an edge in possession and took 20 shots — six on target — against Ghana, and still came up short. Missed opportunities and slow starts were a theme for Team USA throughout the 2010 tournament.

In fact, the only lead the USMNT held during 2010 World Cup came when Donovan scored a fateful goal against Algeria. The American side had to fight from behind in every other match.

Feilhaber contrasted that experience with how the USMNT has played in 2022.

“The thing about this group is they’ve started the games well,” he said. “They led in two games (vs. Iran and Wales), and they outplayed England for the most part of that game.

“The question will be, can they take advantage of outplaying the other team? That’s the one thing we were able to do in 2010. When we were outplaying, we usually scored.

“They’ve got to be able to do that. In the knockout rounds, those are the moments you have to be opportunistic. The moment you’re not opportunistic is when the other team is, and that’s how you win and lose games.”

The Netherlands comes in strong, albeit possibly not as formidable as past editions. While they won all three matches in Group A, they weren’t quite as convincing as some of their predecessors. In 2010 and 2014, the Netherlands made a final and semifinal (before failing to qualify four years ago).

“As much as I think the Netherlands are going to be favored, I don’t see too much between them, other than the ability to really take the opportunity and grab a hold of it,” Feilhaber said.

While Feilhaber predicts the Netherlands will beat the Americans 2-1 on Saturday, he hopes the U.S. squad will use the experiences they’re accruing in Qatar to become stronger for 2026 — when Kansas City will be one of the host sites for World Cup matches.

“I think that’s one thing that the U.S. is going to gain even more so by being in these knockout rounds,” Feilhaber said. “The further they go, the better in terms of gaining experience.

“I think it’s massive that they were able to get through the group and now play in this completely different environment.”