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Trade Talks

Will Benny Feilhaber Sink or Swim in Kansas City?

The soccer media world seems to think that the midfielder's deal to Sporting Kansas City can't go wrong. Maura Gladys is cautiously optimistic, but she senses potential pitfalls.
BY Maura Gladys Posted
December 12, 2012
7:28 AM
On paper, Benny Feilhaber to Sporting Kansas City looks like a great trade. Tactically, it’s brilliant for SKC. Situationally, it’s healthy for Feilhaber. Financially, it works for the New England Revolution. Smiles all around, right? Except, I’m not that sure.

It’s a logical move for SKC, a team that needs to fill the gap left by Roger Espinoza who is off to Wigan in January. The biggest weakness of Peter Vermes' club was a deceptively inept offense that struggled to establish control in the middle of the field on those rare moments when it wasn’t trying to shove the ball down its opponent’s gullet. Feilhaber can slip into Espinoza’s spot and provide midfield vigor with his unique creating ability and final pass instincts.

The move also provides a more accommodating environment for Feilhaber, who was expected to be a leader on a struggling Revolution squad full of young players. But Feilhaber doesn't have the DNA for that kind of gig, which showed in his performance and through his petulant outbursts. In Kansas City, he will only be expected to work hard and contribute.

New England makes out OK in the deal, too. They unload a player who has become ineffective and unplayable, receiving draft picks and allocation money. That's a decent haul for a front office that had no intention of keeping the midfielder.

The potential upshot of it all is palpable. Your storyboard: A lost-but-not-quite-gone player finds a home in a beautiful new stadium and flourishes, making a good team great and reviving his international career along the way. But the trickiest part is in the execution. Between the pressure of performing in a new environment and the implication that he should succeed, Feilhaber’s value-add is less sure than people realize.

This latest step is do or die for Feilhaber. After an unremarkable spell in Denmark and his botched stint in New England, this may be the 27 year old's last shot to prove he can make a lasting impact on a team and put his name back into the national team conversation. It was the super sub role with the USMNT that brought him to the table. In SKC, he has the opportunity to transcend that role. Every pundit, including this one, says that the move makes sense, while offering Bobby Convey comparisons as evidence. That's a lot of pressure to perform.

The one thing Feilhaber does have going for him is that Vermes loves the midfielder and will demand hard work. Feilhaber, who can be aloof, will have the opportunity to redeem himself, in a therapy-through-intensity kind of way.

The opportunity is there. It’s down on paper and it looks great. But the very large gap between paper and the field is where the future of Benny Feilhaber lies. As much as I want to believe that Feilhaber will be 2013’s Eddie Johnson, let's not hand him the controversial Comeback Player of the Year award just yet. Maybe never.

Maura Gladys works in production for KICKTV. She also runs the goalkeeping blog All You Need Is Glove.

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