Sporting KC's Benny Feilhaber feeling right at home in new system heading into MLS Cup
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Uri Rosell is the Sporting Kansas City player who most comes to mind when the subject of "la pausa" comes up, but that's what Sporting have wanted all along from Benny Feilhaber as well – that and the ability to turn off the pause and attack a stretched-out defense.
Heading into MLS Cup, with his fitness finally in line with those demands, Feilhaber is living up to both halves of that job description.
“I feel like I'm a guy that can read the game pretty well when we need to do either one of those two things,” Feilhaber said on Wednesday, during the club's weekly news conference. “It's an important part of the team, because of the pressure we put on other teams. We need to know when to slow it down, and we need to know when to go at them. So I think I've felt a little more comfortable since probably the middle of the year doing that stuff, and with each and every game it gets a little bit better.”
That doesn't mean that Sporting have two midfielders fighting for control of the accelerator, manager Peter Vermes said – more that the two have complementary and sometimes overlapping roles.
“Uri's a little bit more of a connector,” Vermes said during Wednesday's news conference, “where Benny can push the game by just getting it right away and going, he can give the final pass, he can keep the ball for possession. So he has the ability to change the rhythm of the game.”
And whether speeding things up or slowing them down, Feilhaber has come on strong down the stretch for the Eastern Conference champions – adding solid hold-up and defensive play to his assists on the series-winning goals in the conference semifinals and finals.
“In the second legs of each of the two series, he's had the game-winning assist,” Vermes said. “Obviously those things get magnified, and they make it that he's playing so much better. What I would say is that the intensity of the matches, he's risen with that as well, which is a good thing.”
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Vermes said Feilhaber had adjusted over the course of the season to Sporting's offense, his parts in it and when to play each of those parts.
“It's a feel for the game, when you feel certain things are happening,” he said. “What he's getting better at is not slowing the game down too much. Because we still want to go, and that's a recognition thing.”
When it's time for Sporting to attack, Feilhaber provides a through-ball threat up the middle – something that has been lacking at times in the past, leading to an overreliance on crosses from the flanks. And with the defensive discipline of Sporting's MLS Cup opponent, Real Salt Lake, Sporting will have to work hard to vary their points of attack to create mismatches in the final third.
“I think that's big for our team,” Feilhaber said. “We have guys that can definitely take advantage of the space out on the wings. If we can drive at them a little bit in the middle, it makes them come narrow. Then once they come narrow, everything on the outside is available again. I think we've got to use both the inside and the outside, depending on what they give us.”