One of the most surprising things that happened during the final round of games in the MLS regular season was a coach’s decision. Sporting Kansas City manager Peter Vermes chose to bench MVP candidate Benny Feilhaber for the crucial season finale, and afterwards explained that he did not think the midfielder could play the entire match.
We might see that happen again on Thursday.
Sporting KC is set to visit the Portland Timbers in a first round Western Conference match on Thursday night, and a decision has been made on whether Feilhaber will be able to start and go the distance. The veteran playmaker was dropped from his regular starting spot in Sunday’s home encounter with the LA Galaxy, but came off the bench at halftime to deliver the game-winning assist in Sporting KC’s 2-1 triumph.
“We’ll see. Not sure yet,” Vermes told SBI as to whether Feilhaber could start and finish the match vs. Portland. “I’m still doing inventory on our guys.”
The 30-year-old Feilhaber finished the regular season with 10 goals and 15 assists while starting in 30 of the 32 league matches he appeared in for Sporting KC. He also contributed during the club’s run to the U.S. Open Cup title.
“He’s played a lot of games this season,” said Vermes. “I didn’t think he had enough in the gas tank for 90 minutes, so it was my intention the whole time to bring him on in the second half because I felt a few things. One, if we’re down, that he’d help us get a goal. If we’re up, he’s been in enough big games and he’s an experienced guy that he’d help us there as well. Pretty simple.”
Two Sporting KC players who will not be in action at Providence Park, but could be back on the field in the near future are centerback Ike Opara and midfielder Roger Espinoza. Opara and Espinoza are recovering from respective Achilles and foot injuries, and have made substantial progress in recent weeks.
It is unlikely that either of them start in the postseason should they be get back to full health, but could feature as options off the bench at some point in the coming weeks.
“Both guys are working really hard, and I’m optimistic that you’ll see one, maybe both,” said Vermes. “It just depends on a lot of different things, and some of it is being sure that they don’t get a setback and the other is that I won’t put them in harm’s way. I’m not going to try and rush them onto the field.
“They both have done a lot of work to get to this point, to get as close as they are now, but at the same time I won’t rush that. I’ll make sure that when they do, if they do, it’ll be the right time and they’ll be prepared for it.”