KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The tattoo on the inside of Benny Feilhaber's left forearm reads “Per Ardua Ad Astra” – Latin for “Through Struggles to the Stars” or “Through Hard Work to the Stars.”
The veteran midfielder is coming off his first real star turn of the season after struggling for more than a month to get back into the starting lineup. Now he's back to the hard work of proving that he can be a regular with Sporting Kansas City.
“You've just kind of got to fight through it. It's not easy,” Feilhaber told MLSsoccer.com earlier this week. “Nobody said it's easy. You've got to put the work in, and that's what I'm trying to do right now – trying to do the little bits and pieces to keep myself going and keep improving.”
Feilhaber, who has acknowledged that he's still adjusting to Sporting's fitness demands in his first season with the team, went six matches without a start before manager Peter Vermes put him in the XI last Sunday at Chicago. He repaid the confidence with his first goal of the season, a Goal of the Week-nominated strike off the left post to open Sporting's account in the sixth minute of a 2-1 victory.
“Usually, that's the toughest to get, the first one,” he said. “Hopefully, that was the case and the second and third and whatever will be a little bit easier.”
Feilhaber also earned high marks from Vermes for his tactical play – and for his perseverance on the training pitch to earn the start.
“One of the things that we're hoping to get out of him is production, whether it's assists or opportunities around the goal,” Vermes said. “So from that point of view, he was very good. I just like the fact that every day, he's trying out here. He's trying to get better and stronger and all the things that we're asking him to do, and that's going to bode well for him as we move forward, because that's what we're going to need from him.”
That's what he tries to provide each time out, Feilhaber said.
“I think that's kind of the mentality every time you start, so I think it's even more so when you haven't started in a while,” he said. “You go out, you want to implement your spot and let everybody know that you're here to stay, and so it was big. Obviously, I came in really mentally focused and I knew I hadn't played in a while – so maybe I wasn't going to be able to go the full 90, but just give everything I had for as long as I could.”
And on Tuesday, with the regular starters taking a regeneration day, he was back on the training pitch working to win another starting nod for Saturday's home date with Toronto FC (8:30 pm ET, watch on MLS Live) and to be able to go deeper into any match he starts.
“I know if I can be playing 90-minute games at the rhythm that I want to be playing, then I'll be an important player for our team,” he said. “So there's still work to be done, and I think I'm the guy that needs to be going out there and doing that work, whether it's here in training or sometimes out of training when you've got to do extra stuff and get yourself going.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.