FRISCO, Texas – Jair Benitez is finally back to full fitness after battling through a knee injury earlier this summer, and it shows in his recent form. The veteran fullback has a goal and an assist in his last two games and is playing his best soccer of the year.
Benitez admitted he would like to have won goal of the week for the 50-yard special delivery he airmailed against Vancouver two weeks ago (only his second career goal in MLS), but more importantly, he’s glad to be back to full health and contributing at a high level.
“I feel great after my injury,” Benitez told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday through an interpreter. “I feel that I got back into rhythm quickly and that I’m playing very well.
“My fitness is a big factor in why I’ve been playing so well.”
The 34-year-old Benitez has been a regular starter for most of his four seasons in Dallas, but the injury and the emergence of Michel as a strong option at left back have combined to make his usual spot in the top XI less of a sure thing. Coach Schellas Hyndman believes the competition has been a strong motivator for the Colombian.
“I think the thing you see about internal competition is it brings the best out of you, and I think that’s what it’s done,” said Hyndman. “[Benitez] has a little bit better athleticism and speed, he knows the league as well as anybody on our team, and he seems to be a better defender.”
Hyndman added that it’s a good problem to have when two players are so close to each other in competition for a particular position and that ideally, he’ll pick a starter for a given game based on the opponent and the player’s form during that week’s training.
When asked if the battle with Michel for playing time at left back was a motivator, Benitez heartily agreed. “Yes, because Michel is a very good player and the competition is very tough. I can’t relax for a minute and have to keep working hard.”