Monday, September 20, 2010
Recently turned professional Erik Benjaminsen of Stabaek has revealed that his status as a US youth national team player is in jeopardy.
Benjaminsen, who signed a professional contract with Stabaek last month after spending years within the club's youth system, says that he has had zero contact with US Under-20 coach Thomas Rongen since this past May's Cor Groenewegan and believes that he is no longer on the US' international radar.
"It's a hard situation," Benjaminsen recently told YA. "I haven't heard anything since the May camp in Holland. I have the feeling that [the US] doesn't want me."
The 18 year old feels that his play at the Cor Groenewegan tournament may be the reason for the silence coming from the US.
"I think it went OK," he said of his time in Holland. "I don't think I had a great camp, but they didn't really use me where I like to play and nobody talked to me when I left the camp... but I still had a great time with the other players there and loved playing in a US jersey. But not getting called to the Milk Cup team made me believe that I was being passed over."
Benjaminsen goes on to admit that he has more of a comfort level when he plays at the Norwegian youth national team camps.
"I seem to play better for the Norwegian teams," he stated. "It's a tight group of players and we all know each other and see each other every day. The coach knows how we're all doing and makes us feel welcome. "
The young attacking midfielder is fully aware that his international career has arrived at a crossroads and that ultimately, he says his desire is to play for the country that wants him.
"I'm really disappointed that the US hasn't reached out, but I want to play for the national team that wants me," he said frankly. "I don't look at it as if I'm turning down the US. It's more that I'm playing for the country that has chosen me."
He also confirms that Norway has called him to be part of the squad that will try to qualify for the European Under-19 championships next year in Romania.
"I was called up by Norway for the U-19 European qualifier," he notes. "There are alot of good young players in the Eliteserien so I don't think I'll get any playing time, but it's still a nice honor."
Even if Benjaminsen moves forward and features for Norway during its qualification for the Euro U-19 championships, he will still be permitted by FIFA to make a one-time international switch to the US to play in an official event should he desire.
He says that even though he has been called to play for Norway in European competition, he still considers himself an American and wants to play for the US.
"I've always told my friends that I'm an American. I was born in the US and still would love to play for the US. I'm not going to give up on that."
On the domestic front, the learning curve of becoming a professional has been a steep one for the San Francisco native who is adjusting to life on Stabaek's senior team.
"It's been a big step up to go from the junior team to the senior team," Benjaminsen admitted. "That's the case both on and off the field. It's not like in a junior game you maybe look at your performance before the team's result. Now it's all about the team winning.
"Training is faster and more concentrated and I really have to give 100% every time out just to be at everyone else's level."
While adapting to playing in the Eliteserien has taken a bit of a toll, Benjaminsen adamantly states that he has no regrets about his decision.
"I would have never done it if I didn't think I could play at this level," he affirmed. "I'm proud of my decision and I'm not looking back."
Now on the Stabaek senior team, Benjaminsen has joined his long time friend and fellow dual citizen Mikkel Diskerud where the two often find themselves competing against one another in training.
While having to vie against a close friend might drive a wedge between most players, Benjaminsen says that challenging Diskerud on a daily basis has only strengthened their bond.
"It's not different at all between me and Mix," Benjaminsen said of his compatriot. "It's fun to be able to compete against each other. If anything, we're getting closer and making each other better.
"But admittedly, it does kind of suck to have such a good player in front of me on the squad," he summed up with a grin.
Benjaminsen and Stabaek return to action this weekend when they travel to Kongsvinger.