FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – All of the usual precursors to a spell on the bench – a couple of early departures here, an untimely turnover or two there and a warning about forthcoming changes from the coach to tie it all together – presented themselves to New England midfielder Benny Feilhaber prior to Saturday's trip to Chicago.
Those signs didn't make Jay Heaps' decision to drop him from the starting XI for the trip to Toyota Park any easier to accept.
“As a player, you're always frustrated when you're not starting a game,” Feilhaber told MLSsoccer.com earlier this week. “You try to fight through it to prepare for the game. For me, I take soccer so seriously, regardless of whether I'm upset or happy, I'm going to go out and train as hard as I can. When I come in, I'm going to play as hard as I can. I can't really do anything else. That's just in my DNA, I guess.”
After watching the first 45 minutes from his spot on the sideline, Feilhaber unexpectedly received the call to contribute at halftime. Lee Nguyen picked up a left ankle sprain in the first half and the situation prompted Heaps to turn to Feilhaber as an injury-enforced replacement during the break.
It wasn't a particularly easy spot – down 2-1 on the road to a Fire side in the ascendancy on the night – for Feilhaber to make his first substitute appearance since April, but Heaps said the 27-year-old midfielder still showed well during the second half.
“I thought Benny did a good job of coming in [for the second half],” Heaps said. “It was actually on short notice because Lee got injured, we took him out at half. Benny was ready. He didn't have much warm-up time, but he got right in there and controlled the pace on his side. I think we just lacked some vertical stuff and some penetrating runs.”
Feilhaber will hope that his efforts against the Fire inspire Heaps to recall him to the lineup for Saturday's visit to Columbus. Until he receives word about his situation, Feilhaber said he plans to do everything in power on the training field in order to persuade Heaps he deserves to end his temporary exile from the starting XI.
“I don't think anybody wants to be there,” Feilhaber said. “Everybody wants to start, everybody wants their position. That's the same with me. You have to do small things, little things. In training, you have to work hard.
"Hopefully, you show you're good enough and that you have enough talent to help the team as a starter. I think that's a lot of peoples' goals that maybe haven't gotten some of the opportunities and it's my goal right now as I'm on the outside looking in back to the starting XI. It's frustrating within myself, but it's something that drives me as well. I just have to keep on going.”