KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The question was a softball, obviously designed to get Benny Feilhaber talking about Sporting Kansas City's match on Saturday with the Houston Dynamo (8:30 pm ET; MLS LIVE), their longtime rivals and new Western Conference mates.
If Feilhaber had filters, he might have answered said question -- "When the MLS schedule comes up before the season, what's the team that stands out to you that causes you to say to yourself, 'I hate those guys'?" -- that way. Instead, to continue the mixed sports metaphor, Sporting KC's playmaking midfielder turned on the pitch and drove it over the opposite-field fence – into Utah.
"I've never liked Salt Lake,” Feilhaber replied with a smile during the club's weekly news conference on Thursday. “I think they're – yeah, I don't like them. I like playing against them. I like beating them, even though we haven't been able to the last two years, but this year, we get to play them a couple more times.
“Salt Lake, I don't know if it's the game that I look forward to the most, but it's the team that, like you said, I hate the most, I guess.”
Sporting drew 0-0 at home against Real on April 11, with away dates scheduled for June 21 and July 24, and the two sides also played to a scoreless draw last April. Sporting haven't lost to Real since 2011, but their last win in the series came in the 2013 MLS Cup final, which went to 10 rounds of penalties at a frigid Sporting Park before RSL's Lovel Palmer smacked his attempt off the crossbar.
“For me, that's not the reason why,” Feilhaber said. “I just don't like them. I'll leave it at that.”
“Some individuals, I don't hate,” he said with a laugh, when prodded for more. “Some guys on the team, I like. But I guess, as a whole, I don't like them too much.”
More not-leaving-it-at-that followed.
“I just think they're – snobby, almost,” he said. “They think they're something special, when they're not. So, that's pretty much it.”
During that 2013 season, Feilhaber's first in Kansas City, then-RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey disparaged Sporting's high-pressing 4-3-3 style, calling it a “physical, rock 'em, sock 'em style” while characterizing Real's approach to the game as a “passing, possession, beautiful game.”
“That's definitely one of the things that shows their personality,” Feilhaber said. “I just think it's not really true, the things that they said, but they're allowed to have their opinions and we're allowed to have ours.”
Former RSL coach Jason Kreis has moved on to expansion side New York City FC, but that hasn't softened Feilhaber's feelings.
“I don't think their personalities have changed so much,” he said. “Maybe the style of their game has, but I still think they think the same way.”
Eventually, in response to another question, Feilhaber did talk about the Dynamo – the club that knocked Sporting from the postseason in 2011 and 2012 before they finally got past them in the Eastern Conference final on their way to that 2013 crown.
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Still, he couldn't resist getting in one more dig at RSL.
“They're a rival because of how many times we've played them,” Feilhaber said of the Dynamo. “We played them three years in a row in the playoffs, and I think – for me, at least – they're different than Salt Lake. It's a rival that we respect. Salt Lake's a rival I don't respect. But, anyway – I think [the Dynamo] respect us, and we respect them, and it's a good rivalry. We fight hard to win every game that we play against them, and I wouldn't expect anything different.”
Feilhaber isn't the first Sporting player to express some public disdain for the Utah squad.
Last year, ahead of the two sides' meeting in April, forward Dom Dwyer said – with tongue firmly in cheek, as usual – that “I hate them very much.”
Shortly after the news conference on Thursday, Dwyer sailed past reporters with a wide grin and an emphatic, “No comment.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.