KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Spend enough time around Sporting Kansas City, and the phrase “We win as a team and we lose as a team” will get drilled into your consciousness.
Sure, it's a cliché – and one not confined to any team – but it's how the club approaches the game: No one player gets all the credit for a win, and no one player takes all the blame for a loss.
Still, when a playmaker isn't on top of his game, it affects the squad as a whole. And, conversely, when he's on – as Benny Feilhaber has been of late, especially at home – it lifts the entire side.
Sporting are 5-0 in their last five outings at Children's Mercy Park, after a 3-4-1 start at home. Feilhaber has gotten himself in the boxscore in four of those victories, with three goals and two assists over that span. But in keeping with the prevailing mentality, Feilhaber – asked to talk about his run of form – first talked about his club.
“I've been really happy with how this year's gone, because it hasn't been the easiest year – not for myself and not for the team,” he told MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday. “I think we've been very professional. We've worked through the tough times, and managed a lot of those tough times. Now we're kind of rounding into a better form, especially at home, which is very, very important if you want to succeed in this league and make the playoffs and be successful in the playoffs.
“So for myself and for the team, I'm just proud of how we've dealt with it in a professional manner, and now things are starting to fall together. Players are playing better. We're getting goals in timely moments. We're locking down certain aspects on the defensive side of things, and so, all in all, I think it's been our mentality that's kind of gotten us to this point now.”
Feilhaber came into this season on a pair of career highs, with 12 goals and 20 assists across all competitions in 2015. He's up to six and six across all competitions now, after a slow start to the year.
“I've tried to have a really professional attitude,” he said. “Things didn't come as easily as they did last year for me, and that's OK. It's not always going to be you getting goals and assists at high rates. Sometimes you've got to really work on your craft and try to improve and work through the moments where you're not at your best.
“I think, honestly, for me, this year's been head and shoulders above all the rest in terms of how I've managed that – how I've managed it professionally and mentally. Now I'm playing better, feeling more confident with my touch and more confident going forward. Hopefully that translates into more success for our team.”
It has, with Sporting positioned for a sixth straight postseason appearance despite a rash of injuries and their early-season struggles to win at home – struggles that were made up in part because of bad passes that turned into opposing goals.
Feilhaber wasn't immune to that, but as his good form has returned, his approach has broadened. He can still deliver a perfectly weighted through ball, but he also has been more solid in making passes that maintain possession.
“I tried to get the basics back, try and play simple, try and keep the attack going, not necessarily try and go for the home run ball every time,” he said. “I think those are aspects of my game that I've really concentrated to improve on. And of course, I want to be the guy who can also give that final pass and create the opportunities, but I don't want to do that in lieu of keeping the ball.
“It hasn't been something I've thought about off the field, like, 'I'm going to be the guy who passes to the pass to the pass,' or however you might say that. It's something that has just grown with the season and my game this year.”
And this year, for now, is all Feilhaber has guaranteed with Sporting. This is his contract season, and manager and technical director Peter Vermes said Wednesday that he is not yet ready to discuss Feilhaber's – or any other players' – possibilities for 2017.
Feilhaber would like to stay, though.
“From my perspective, I've played here now for four seasons,” he said. ”I've enjoyed playing here, every minute of it.”