DAVID SMITH - Monday, April 5, 2010
With two appearances back under his belt after returning from an ankle injury, Benny Feilhaber is looking to fight his way back into Aarhus' starting 11 and help the team end their season strongly.
The American midfielder suffered cartilage damage in his ankle during mid-season training in February, and was forced to miss the team's first five games of the new year - from which they only earned one point - as he worked his way back to health.
Team doctors cleared him to play two days before last week's mid-week visit to Esbjerg, allowing Brazilian-born Feilhaber to get a run-out for the last quarter-hour of the contest. His introduction into the game came shortly before an offensive explosion turned a tight 1-0 score into a 4-0 blowout, in the process earning a corner which led to the team's second tally, and generally feeling positive about the overall return to the field.
"My ankle is close to full strength," he confirms. "It still was a bit sore after the game but it didn't bother me during the match."
"It will continue to get better and feel better with more practice and games, I'm sure."
While the team had hoped to slowly bring the American back into longer appearances, their hand was forced during the weekend, as an early injury to Georgian midfielder Davit Devdariani paved the way for Feilhaber to play the final 84 minutes of regulation in their scoreless draw with Randers.
Nevertheless, he is willing to remain patient and allow more time for his ankle to build back up to full strength before expecting to tackle the possibility of a 90-minute appearance.
"It's still a bit early to get into the starting lineup," the former Hamburg player admits, "but as I grow more confident about how I feel and about my fitness, of course that will be my goal, to become a consistent starter once again."
Sunday's draw to Randers was the team's third straight without defeat after opening their 2010 schedule with four straight losses, and more importantly showed the team continuing a level of defensive tenacity not yet displayed this season through their third straight shut-out.
The former UCLA Bruin feels this bodes well for the team's chances over the final eight games of their schedule as they look to improve on their current ninth-place position.
"I think our team has definitely turned a corner in the last few games and I would think we could make a good run towards the end of the season," he asserts.
While technically in the second-worst non-relegation spot in the league on 32 points, a fairly topsy-turvy season for most SAS Ligaen participants does still see them a mere eight points from the top three.
Even though admitting that an ascension through the ranks and into possible contention for the Europa League will require the continuation of their current good play and a bit of luck with other results around the league, Feilhaber sees their recent run and the impending return of other key players such as Jakob Poulsen from injury as a source of motivation to keep the team fighting through the final weeks before the summer.
"It will also depend how other teams do in the final weeks of the season, but with our team picking up important points, and several other important players getting back to full fitness, I think we can make a push for the top of the table."
Feilhaber will likely continue his return towards full-strength on Sunday afternoon when Aarhus host Chris Rolfe and Aalborg.