Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By DAN KARELL
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Sporting Kansas City have been rocked so much by suspensions, injuries, and international call-ups this season that they’ve played 19 different lineups in each of their 19 MLS matches.
Throughout the turnover and flux, there’s remained one constant in the Sporting KC lineup: Benny Feilhaber.
The 29-year-old midfielder has played in all but one league match for the club this season and has carried over the strong form he displayed at the end of the 2013 campaign. Feilhaber’s talent was on display on Wednesday evening in Columbus, as he set up the opening goal and scored one himself, a dipping drive that caught the underside of the bar in the 93rd minute of the match to lift Sporting KC to a 2-1 win over the Crew.
“He’s probably been our most consistent player all season, he’s been very very good,” said Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes. “I’m happy that his play has become extremely consistent and he has realized if he just works hard, does the things that he does, his talent proves itself on the field game in and game out. From that perspective, its good for him, its great for the team, and everybody wins on that one.”
It wasn’t always so rosy in Kansas City for Feilhaber though, as he struggled initially to adjust to Vermes’ demanding training sessions. Over time, Feilhaber was able to find a groove within the team and find his place, leading to improved results.
“This might be my best, consistent form that I’ve been in probably for my whole career,” Feilhaber admitted. “I think I’ve had a lot of high moments and low moments in my career, and I’ve worked really hard since I got into Kansas City. Really, it’s not even about me wanting (the consistency), it’s more about it being forced upon me, because you’re not going to play if you’re not doing the things that Peter asks of you here. It’s really important and its helped me get that consistency.
“I think even middle to the end of last year, and then obviously this season, I felt really comfortable with my fitness and that I’ve been able to put a good showing each and every game for 90 minutes. When you’re able to do that, obviously the special plays come out. I was lucky to have that opportunity tonight and was able to put one in.”
Last season, Feilhaber came up huge for the team in their postseason push, which ended up with Kansas City hosting and winning the 2013 MLS Cup final. Feilhaber provided two assists in the difficult four-match gauntlet as well as other contributions that weren’t lost on his teammates.
“If you’ve watched our team since late last season, I think Benny’s definitely been a catalyst to the way that we play,” midfielder Jacob Peterson said.
Feilhaber’s teammate Matt Besler has watched the Brazilian-born midfielder change his game to fit into the team’s style and philosophy since Feilhaber was acquired in December 2012. Feilhaber has almost always been used as an attacking midfielder by his previous teams, and he’s a player that possesses good passing technique and the vision to find his teammates in the box. But since arriving in Kansas City, Feilhaber has had to pick up the defensive side of the game.
Playing in a demanding three-man midfield, Feilhaber needs to play almost as a box-to-box midfielder. It’s a different style than he was used to, but Feilhaber has put his head down and managed to fit perfectly into what Vermes wants to see from his midfielders.
“Benny’s been great for us (this season),” Besler said. “On both sides of the ball, he understands his position on this team, and he’s really stepped up as a leader too. When he plays like he did tonight and he’s contributing in and around the box, that’s huge for us and that’s a Benny that we love.”