By FRANCO PANIZO
Benny Feilhaber is set to be wed to his long-time girlfriend this weekend, but that is not the only marriage he is excited about.
Feilhaber was traded from the New England Revolution to Sporting Kansas City on Tuesday, and the 27-year-old midfielder could not be any happier with the move. Feilhaber had recently faced an uncertain future after the Revolution had declined his option, but things have taken a turn for the better after Sporting KC traded two draft picks and allocation money to acquire a player they highly covet.
“At the end of the season, I knew that Kansas City was a place that I would’ve really loved to go and this was before anything really moved in that direction,” said Feilhaber in a conference call on Tuesday. “I’m really glad that it’s happening this way. Based on all the teams in the league, it’s one of the teams, if not the best teams for me, in the sense of the style that they play. It’s a perfect situation for me. I really couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Sporting KC is equally as thrilled to have acquired Feilhaber. The talented midfielder will bring another attacking option to an already-potent offense and Sporting KC is so excited about the prospects of him being on the team that they already have a four-year contract in place for the World Cup veteran that they are trying to finalize.
For Feilhaber, however, just joining a club that has proven to be one of the best in MLS is refreshing. The Revolution failed to make the postseason during Feilhaber’s two years there, and he was in and out of the lineup in 2012 as he struggled with consistency.
“Obviously, a lot of ups and downs,” said Feilhaber of his time in New England. “It wasn’t easy not winning as many games as we would’ve liked, as I would’ve liked. Losing is always a tough thing. I’m an extremely competitive person, and losing doesn’t necessarily bring out the best with anybody.
“I struggled with it and obviously I didn’t have a great season this year. Points-wise, I probably had a better season the year before even though our team wasn’t as good. But you take out what you can and try and learn from it, try to improve as a player and a person, and I think I can take back the things that I’ve learned about myself through that difficult process and make myself better whether it’s on the field or off the field.”
If Sporting KC is getting a more determined Feilhaber, their attack could be lethal. Feilhaber is known for being able to unlock defenses with his creativity and vision, something which Sporting KC lacked in 2012 despite being one of the best teams in the league, and he can score the occasional goal, too.
That is not all Feilhaber is bringing to Livestrong Sporting Park, at least not according to Sporting KC head coach Peter Vermes.
“A lot of people don’t get this about Benny and that is a lot of people see him as a guy going forward, but I know him a little bit differently and he’s pretty tenacious defensively,” Vermes said on the conference call. “With the way that we defend, even last year giving up the least amount of goals, he’s going to help us achieve that again and be one of the top teams in the league when it comes to goals against.”
Vermes is no stranger to Feilhaber and his qualities, having coached him on the U.S. Under-20 team that went to the the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship. That might explain why Sporting KC did not hesitate to pull the trigger on the deal with the Revolution.
Still, Feilhaber was not ruling out anything before Sporting KC came calling. He told his agent to explore all options and was even open to the idea of heading back to Europe, where he played at a number of clubs from 2005-2011. But he always believed that staying in MLS would be the best move for his career.
“I did have a preference for staying in MLS,” said Feilhaber. “At this point in my career, because I haven’t had a great season, I think it would be tough to find a good spot outside the U.S. where someone potentially doesn’t know me as well as some coaches within the league.
“MLS, for me, was a better option if I could stay and go to a team that really wanted me and I wanted to be at. Really, this comes from way before anything started evolving with Kansas City. It was really my first choice, inside of MLS or outside of MLS. I consider myself lucky to have gotten this opportunity.”
At Sporting KC, Feilhaber will have a chance to play alongside a talented core group of players that includes Graham Zusi, C.J. Sapong, Kei Kamara, recently re-signed Matt Besler and a recovering Teal Bunbury. Feilhaber will also have the opportunity to play in the CONCACAF Champions League and in front of the boisterous crowd that typically fills Livestrong Sporting Park.
“All those are things that I thought of two months ago when the season ended,” said Feilhaber. “The stadium to me is the best stadium in the league. The fans are unbelievable. They’re awful fans to play with when you’re the away team, but awesome fans to play for when you’re the home team.
“Obviously, Sporting won the Open Cup so they’ll be defending that, they took first place in the Eastern Conference, so they’re extremely competitive team that’s always vying for a championship. Playing in CONCACAF Champions League as well, so playing against other teams around the area in Mexico and Central America, it’s all those factors that made it my No. 1 choice.”
Another potential benefit from playing on a winning team like Sporting KC is that a call-up to the U.S. Men’s National Team might be easier to come by. Feilhaber has represented the United States 39 times in his career, but just once since Jurgen Klinsmann took over as head coach in July 2011.
That national team drought may be something Feilhaber wants to address down the road, especially with the 2014 World Cup looming, but right now he is focused on settling in and performing with his new club.
“My short-term goal is getting back to playing the soccer that I know I can play and I don’t think I’ve done that in the last year,” said Feilhaber. “Then we’ll see what happens with the national team. Hopefully, Jurgen still has an eye out for me but I have to prove myself and get back to playing well.”
Feilhaber may be fixed on the immediate future but that’s understandable. Two rough seasons have made him eager for a fresh start, and Sporting KC have given him just that.
“This is basically the best wedding present I could’ve asked for: to know where I’m going and being in Kansas City,” said Feilhaber. “Sporting KC has a fantastic organization. They’ve done so well the last couple years and I’m looking forward and trying to come in there and do my part and help the team win games and hopefully a championship.”