Aug. 25, 2005
After a star-making turn at the World Youth Championships this summer, UCLA midfielder Benny Feilhaber left Westwood to sign a professional contract with Hamburg SV in Germany. Feilhaber, a former walk-on athlete and a 2004 All-Pac-10 second-team selection, talked with uclabruins.com from Germany about his time at UCLA and how he is adjusting to life in Germany as a professional.
uclabruins.com:Let's start out by talking about UCLA a little bit. What made you come to UCLA as a freshman?
Benny: The soccer was the number one thing. I know it's obviously a great school, and academics was important to me. I didn't want to go to a school with poor academics. That was an important part of it also, but in terms of soccer, knowing it was one of the best if not the best soccer program in the nation. I really wanted to improve my soccer so I could become a professional later on. Even though I was a walk-on, I wanted to give it a chance and see if I could make it on the team. It obviously led to many things, and it was definitely where I think I most improved in the soccer aspects of my life - during my few years training at UCLA.
uclabruins.com: How would you describe your first year at UCLA compared to your second?
Benny: The first year was a new experience for me. I came onto one of the best teams ever assembled in college soccer, and we were coming off a year we had just won the NCAA title. I was surrounded by players who were at a skill level I had never played with before in my life, and also I wasn't one of the important players on the team, which I had been on every team I had played on for all of my life. So it was very important for me that first year surrounding myself with all the great players I played with my freshman year. It improved my soccer so much. The second year, I was a much more important part of the team and they gave me responsbilities that I hadn't had the previous year. The two years combined was just essential for my soccer because the first year I had such great players around me that I was actually able to be one of the more important guys my second year, and the responsibility to perform well was on my shoulders. The two different types of years really helped me out.
uclabruins.com: What will you miss most about UCLA?
Benny: The guys on team. I'll get to see them but probably not get to play with them, at least for a while. Maybe I'll play with a couple of guys with the national team, maybe later, if I make it or they make it. I look forward to playing with them if they get a chance. Obviously the friends I made. I miss everybody pretty much. I'll get to see them again. There's a lot of things about UCLA I'll miss - the friends I make , the place - obviously California is a much better place to live than every other place I've lived all my life. The weather is a huge part of it. There's a lot of rain here, and obviously California doesn't have a lot. I've got to get used to it a little bit. But overall, the thing that I'll miss the most is the friendships and all the guys I played with.
uclabruins.com: What was your best memory of playing on the UCLA soccer team?
Benny: My best memory was probably when we clinched the Pac-10 title this past year. We played Washington in Washington. It was freezing, and there were about 3,000 people there. We were losing 1-0 at the end of the first half, and our backs were against the wall a little bit, and we were able to get the tying goal when Ahmed (Khalil) scored. And then with about 10 minutes left, I was able to get the goal to break the tie, and we won 2-1. That was one of my greatest memories. I remember talking to some of the guys - Kiel (McClung) in particular, and I told them, 'Today I'm scoring the game-winner'. He told me 'No, you're not. What are you talking about?' and all that kind of stuff.
uclabruins.com: So now you've moved on to Germany. Describe the process of how you signed with Hamburg.
Benny: The process started right after the World Championships in June. There had been some teams talking to my parents because during that time I was just concentrating on the World Championships. Once we were eliminated, I visited Hamburg and three other clubs - Kaiserslautern in Germany, Mallorca in Spain and Heerenveen in Holland. I tried to keep my options open and see what teams were interested that I was interested in. I talked with my family, and in between all this, I had another tournament I played in, the Maccabiah Games in Israel. After the Maccabiah Games were over, I decided with my parents that I wanted to come to Hamburg. It was a very difficult decision; there were good parts about every place I visited, but I liked Hamburg the most. I liked the city, the people, the club. Obviously they're a great football team. I was really excited about the opportunity.
uclabruins.com: Was it difficult for you to decide to leave UCLA?
Benny: Oh yeah, definitely. I also talked a little bit with Major League Soccer, and I thought in my mind if I really wanted to come to Europe to play soccer, this would be the best opportunity because you never know when a team is going to be interested in you again. It's the best place to play soccer in the world. So if I was to come to Europe I was most likely going to come now or not come at all. When I was talking to Major League Soccer, I was debating if I did go to Major League Soccer, if I was able to only go in January, I would have liked to play another year at UCLA. So I touched upon that decision with my parents, but unfortunately with MLS it didn't work out as well as I would have liked. It was difficult for me to make a decision to go to MLS, so I thought it was better for me to go to Europe. I think if I had gone to MLS, I think I would have been at UCLA for one more year.
uclabruins.com:How is life in Germany?
Benny: So far, so good. The first couple of weeks I was just getting settled in. I got an apartment and a car, getting furniture in my apartment. I'm now just settled in and living at the apartment and not a hotel anymore. I have been doing well. I've been training with the first team and playing with the second team. Everything has been going pretty well, and I've got my German lessons this week, so maybe I'll be speaking some German soon.
uclabruins.com: What was the first German word or phrase you learned?
Benny: The word was bitte, which means you're welcome. I remember the first day of practice, there were a lot of fans around the stadium asking for everybody's autographs. When I was signing the autographs, people said danke, which means thank you. So then I asked one of the players how to say you're welcome to them instead of giving them a blank stare when people came up to talk to me. He told me, and that was the first word I learned.
uclabruins.com: Are you the only American on your team?
Benny: Yes, I'm the only American, but there are quite a few who speak English to me. Even if their English isn't perfect, I can understand them. If I don't understand the coaches, I can always talk to the players, and they can give me direction.
uclabruins.com: Do the fans or the media treat you any different being the only American there?
Benny: No, I don't think so. Mostly the only media that approach me are the American media, not so much the German, at least not yet. Maybe when I start playing with the first team, the German media will talk to me also, but now so far I don't think anything different than any other players.
uclabruins.com: What are some of your goals - short-term and long-term?
Benny: Short-term, it would be getting adapted to everything - the environment, the language - playing well with the second team and training well with the first team, being able to get my confidence and having other people have confidence in me. The short-term goals hopefully I will have a lot of that done by the end of this year. Long-term is obviously making the first team and being an integral part of the team, building on my soccer and becoming a better player, and continuing with my soccer career as long as I can.
uclabruins.com: Well, thanks so much, Benny, for your time, and good luck this season.
Benny: No problem!