Benny leads American cavalry
© Foto-net

Benny Feilhaber has only played 18 minutes in the USA's two games here in China, coming on as a sub in their opening win over Japan and again in their dramatic draw with the Dutch in Tianjin. But all of that is about to change, as the elegant Derby County midfielder will likely play a critical role in the all-or-nothing showdown with Nigeria in Beijing on Tuesday.

Needing at least a point in their last Group B game against the Africans, and with Freddy Adu and Michael Bradley both suspended, head coach Peter Nowak needs to shuffle his pack.

"I'm not in the coach's head," Feilhaber told before leaving the team base in Tianjin for Beijing. "But if he [Nowak] decides to bring me in I'll be ready to go and to do everything I can to help the team get the point we need."

The working assumption is that Feilhaber, who has 18 senior caps and even scored the winner against Mexico in last year's CONCACAF Gold Cup final, will play from the start in place of Bradley. Recent Villarreal signing Jozy Altidore, who scored the USA's second against the Dutch after coming on as a substitute, will likely line up alongside Brian McBride up front in place of Adu.

"We lost two really important players and we were unlucky to concede such a late goal, because we had the result in our hands and a win would have put us through without any of this drama," added the Brazilian-born player of Austrian-Jewish descent, speaking of the game against the Dutch which was levelled by a Gerald Sibon free kick in the dying seconds. "Michael [Bradley] begins all of our attacks and wins the balls and in the middle and Freddy, well everyone knows he can change a game in one second with one brilliant run or pass."

Passing wizard
Feilhaber, a worldly midfielder with tremendous vision and passing range, is no slouch when it comes to the finer points of the game. Discovered quite by accident by then USA youth coach Sigi Schmid during an informal kick-about at University in California, he soon found himself heading to Holland for the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2005.

Two years later, at just 22, he was on the books at Hamburg and a regular member of Bob Bradley's USA senior team. Now, as he readily admits, young Benny is "living a dream" playing at these Olympic Games in Beijing. "I can't even describe the feeling of getting to be an Olympian," he gushed.

"We know the Nigerians are an outstanding team, as we've been able to see a few of their games already," Feilhaber admitted. "But we're over the disappointments of the Holland game and we've been playing some good soccer. I'm confident that with the dangerous players we have, we can pull off the result.

"We've got real depth in this squad," he added. "Sure we'll be missing two good players, but we've got 18 players who can get the job done in this team, so I don't think the Nigerians should expect any holes."