Dec 5, 2013, 12:42 AM EDT
This postseason, we’ve seen it click for Benny Feilhaber in a way we’ve never seen before. We saw his talent for the U.S. Men’s National Team when he developed into a type of super-sub under Bob Bradley, but in Germany, the Premier League, and Denmark, he never had the same impact. When the Brazil-born midfielder came back to Major League Soccer with the New England Revolution in 2011, he had the talent to be an impact player, but it’s only now, one year and one stop later, that the 28-year-old’s found a platform to display his skills. Has Sporting Kansas City finally solved the Benny Feilhaber puzzle?
If so, they’ve only done so over the last three games. Opening the playoffs in New England, Kansas City left the former U.S. international on the bench in a 2-1 loss. It was only after Laurence Olum was lost to injury that Feilhaber got a chance, seizing his opportunity with a standout performance in Sporting’s 3-1 victory. His interception of Matt Reis’ 113th minute outlet and subsequent cross to Claudio Bieler created the round-winning goal, capping a night in which he created six scoring chances. Given the performance and the circumstances, it was Feilhaber’s best game since returning to Major League Soccer.
Like the rest of his team, Feilhaber went quiet two days later in Houston, but in the Eastern Conference final’s return leg, he replicated his Revolution performance. After a slow start, Feilhaber ended the night with six more created chances and an assist, his second half scoop for Dom Dwyer against creating the tie-sealing goal.
“Obviously those things get magnified,” Kansas City head coach Peter Vermes said of Feilhaber’s game-winning assists. “What I would say is that [in] the intensity of the matches, he’s risen with that as well, which is a good thing.”
But where has all this come from? Why the sudden turnaround? Has Feilhaber just stepped up when his team’s needed him most? Undoubtedly yes, but whether that’s coincidence or a function of something that’s changed since the middle of the season is the question.
Acquired this offseason for draft picks, Feilhaber played fewer minutes than he had in either of his seasons in New England, at points left out of Kansas City’s team entirely.While he provided valuable depth in August and September, starting eight consecutive games, Feilhaber only played 90 minutes once. In October, Feilhaber dressed four times but only saw 45 minutes of action, a usage pattern that persisted into the first game of the playoffs.
“I was down,“ Feilhaber said this week, talking about his struggles to maintain a consistent place in the team. “I felt like I was fighting for my job. And in some ways, I was losing.”
It was a huge turnaround from the beginning of the season when Feilhaber started the team’s first nine games, but that was back when expectations may have been greater. Now the pecking order seems clear. Graham Zusi is the clear focal point of this team – the man who orchestrates the attack. Instead of trying to find a way to help distribute the burden, Feilhaber is an obvious complementary piece. When he has room to create, it’s often because Zusi has opened it up. Feilhaber can worry about pulling the trigger, not shouldering the load.
“What he’s getting better at is not slowing the game down too much,” Vermes said of Feilhaber’s improvement. “Because we still want to go, and that’s a recognition thing.”
The irony there is Feilhaber’s value in the open, when he elects to “go.” When he gets out in the open — as he did so often with the national team; as he did for the deciding goal against Houston — Feilhaber can pick out a pass at an all-star level, often displaying that tantalizing skill which leaves you wondering when and how somebody will figure out how to get the most out of Benny Feilhaber.
For a man who was always at his best in spurts for the national team, this may be his best role. As he showed against New England and Houston, Feilhaber can be decisive in moments, but when asked to be the guy to control the minute-by-minute (as he was in New England), he often leaves you asking for more.
Now, filling a role that complements Zusi, Feilhaber is left to be his best without trying to be what he’s not. And by letting him do that, Peter Vermes may have solved the Benny Feilhaber conundrum.
Jul 24, 2014, 4:08 PM EDT
After seeing time with the senior squad, 18-year-old prospect will be sidelined infinitely.
Jul 24, 2014, 3:25 PM EDT
The Colombian striker takes a few hacks before AS Monaco’s friendly in Miami against Atletico National.
Jul 24, 2014, 2:50 PM EDT
Limited to just 16 matches last year after his big transfer from Liverpool to West Ham, Carroll is battling another ailment this season.
Jul 24, 2014, 2:09 PM EDT
The rags-to-riches defender steps away from the pitch, at least as a player, while reflecting on his career journey from North America to Europe and back.
Jul 24, 2014, 1:46 PM EDT
Herrera chats exclusively to PST: “If we are a humble team and we work hard, we will achieve our objectives and we will win trophies.”
Jul 24, 2014, 1:26 PM EDT
His dad played for El Tri, but California-born Fernando Arce Jr says his U-20 bow with the States makes him an American player “forever”
Jul 24, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
Aston Villa, Manchester United and Manchester City all cruised, while Spurs had to find a late winner after coughing up a two-goal lead.
Jul 24, 2014, 12:47 PM EDT
What about the Premier League? Bundesliga? Serie A?
Jul 24, 2014, 12:15 PM EDT
Goran Milanovic is hoping the former American prodigy chooses to revitalize his career with FK Jagodina in the Serbian top flight.
Jul 24, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
One of the best stories is United States men’s soccer history is about to move past the “playing career” chapter.
Jul 24, 2014, 11:47 AM EDT
How big of a deal is the Chelsea legend signing for New York City FC? It’s up there.
Jul 24, 2014, 11:14 AM EDT
Lampard: “I want to test myself, carry on challenging myself, I want to be that leader and that person on and off the pitch that can make things happen for this club.”
Jul 24, 2014, 10:51 AM EDT
The 36-year-old becomes New York City FC’s fourth player.
Jul 24, 2014, 10:25 AM EDT
The Manchester United boss proves that even Premier League training sessions sometimes echo your experiences on a youth travel team.
Jul 24, 2014, 10:09 AM EDT
The Reds striker spends some time with the NBCSN broadcast crew during Liverpool and AS Roma’s ‘Football at Fenway’
Jul 24, 2014, 9:29 AM EDT
The Ecuadorian star winger, 24, joins Gylfi Sigurdsson and Bafetimbi Gomis as players to beef up Garry Monk’s attack
Sporting Club announces plans for $75 million “soccer village” for US Soccer National Training Center
Jul 24, 2014, 9:01 AM EDT
Well, this sounds nice…
Jul 24, 2014, 8:23 AM EDT
The growing mess in Israel carried over onto the soccer fields of Austria, where Maccabi Haifa played a preseason friendly against Lille.
Jul 24, 2014, 7:45 AM EDT
Almost 90,000 fans in Los Angeles watched Manchester United put an old-fashioned punking on their hosts. And then both sides reacted.
Jul 23, 2014, 11:27 PM EDT
Surely one of these clubs enjoyed the sweeter side of this deal and here we set out to see who it was.
- EXCLUSIVE: Manchester United’s new signing Ander Herrera focused on success 0
- Serbian boss: Freddy Adu sought by Europa, UCL clubs in Serbia, Cyprus 0
- Frank Lampard delighted to sign for New York City FC, start MLS adventure 0
- Official: Frank Lampard unveiled as New York City FC’s latest signing 3
- Sporting Club announces plans for $75 million “soccer village” for US Soccer National Training Center 11
- “Embarrassed” in LA, thrilled in Manchester: Reactions to 7-0 beatdown 28