LAFC ponder '19 midfield options in the wake of Benny Feilhaber's departure

LOS ANGELES – As preseason got underway at the club’s performance center in East LA, the bulk of LAFC’s 2018 roster remained intact heading into its second campaign.

Return of their potent attack? Check. Bolstered defense? Check. New goalkeepers to help back up and push breakout starter Tyler Miller? Check.

One noticeable absence however, was midfielder Benny Feilhaber.

“At the end of the season we talked,” said Bradley of his sitdown with the Colorado Rapids’ newest signing. “I said to him, ‘Is it fair if I say that you’re moving toward the back end of your career, do you take that okay?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ So I said, ‘Look, my experience is this: at the back end of your career, you’ve got to figure out what your priorities are.’”

Bradley — who called Benny a ‘favorite’ of his, mentioning the football memories the two have shared over the years and that the Brazilian-born midfielder was “excellent” in LAFC’s inaugural season — revealed he’d had similar conversations with many players over his coaching years, including Laurent Ciman before his late transfer last season to Dijon in Ligue 1.

“We all told him that we appreciated the way [Feilhaber] met every challenge last year and what he brought on the field,” the LAFC boss said. “Now I hope that this is something that’s good for him and his family.”

Feilhaber, who turned 34 earlier this month, made 38 appearances for the Black & Gold across all competitions in 2018.

A reliable presence in the LAFC midfield, the MLS veteran was also a leader for the team — putting up his hand even when he made a mistake — and his absence begs the question: Is there now a Feilhaber-sized hole in LAFC’s midfield?

Andre [Horta] now knows that, ‘look, come on, we also believe in you,” said Bradley, suggesting the departure might be a good opportunity for their third Designated Player signing, who saw limited action last year after joining the squad from Portuguese outfit Braga in July.

Eduard Atuesta, whose loan deal to LAFC was made permanent in the offseason, skirted one reporter’s suggestion that he might fill the role of his former teammate in the midfield.

“Benny was a mixed midfielder, more offensive, my position is central defensive midfielder,” he said in his native Spanish, clarifying the two different positions.

With Mark-Anthony Kaye back, Lee Nguyen said he feels “confident” with the club’s current midfield, even without a like-for-like Feilhaber replacement doesn’t come on board.

“We lose that bit of leadership, that bit of veteran-ship,” said Nguyen, who had played with Feilhaber at New England and the US men's national team before they reconnected at LAFC. “[Feilhaber] was a big voice in the locker room and on the field, so he will be missed for that. At the same time, we got guys who have been here for the full season last year and new guys coming in as well.”

While the front office hasn’t officially signed any new midfielders as of yet, in addition to recent reports linking LAFC to Rodolfo Zelaya, there may also be options already training with the club.

“We have some interesting, talented midfielders,” said Bradley of his current crop. “We’ll keep trying to find others, for sure.”

Possible additions could come in the form of those unsigned faced that featured in Monday’s training session: draft pickups Javier Perez, Peter-Lee Vassell and Kevin Mendoza, as well as trialists Conor O’Brien, who spent time playing in Norway and Denmark, former Club Tijuana man Alejandro Guido and longtime LA Galaxy midfielder Baggio Husidic.

“I’ve enjoyed that part over the years,” said Bradley. “When you find a guy that maybe isn’t so well-known. We all had it with Mark-Anthony Kaye last year. Not too many people knew what he had done for Canada or for Louisville, but you could see as we started preseason that he had something and it just kept getting better and better. So I’m always looking for guys that fit in.”