KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Unless they meet in MLS Cup, Saturday will mark the only time that the top two MVP candidates at midseason will square off against each other on the same pitch (4 pm ET; TSN, MLS LIVE).
And while Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco has put up some staggering numbers in his first season with the Reds, leading the league with 16 goals and dealing out 10 assists, Benny Feilhaber's Sporting Kansas City teammates say Feilhaber's own production in those two categories is just one of the things that make the midfielder deserving of the honor.
“Benny's a special player,” goalkeeper Tim Melia told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday. “He's been huge for us this year, because in times where we've needed a goal, we've needed that special pass, he's delivered for us.”
The 30-year-old Feilhaber has already set new career highs with seven goals and 11 assists in MLS play this season, ranking second in the league in the latter category. But he's equally valuable on the other side of the ball, Melia said.
"He does a lot of work defensively. I don't think he gets enough credit for that," Melia said. "He covers spaces, and he's smart enough where he just does proactive defending and gets in a lane. That goes a little unnoticed, maybe, but he's been huge for us. He's obviously been the MVP for our team, but in my opinion he's been the MVP of the league so far.”
Like Melia, centerback Kevin Ellis sees firsthand the effort Feilhaber puts in on both sides of the ball.
“Benny doesn't only do it on the offensive side,” Ellis said. “He does it on the defensive side. You can see that with our defensive record. The plus is, look at what he can do when he gets the ball at his feet. There's very few guys in the game – not only in this game, but in the world – who can do some of the things he can do when he has the ball. He's always dangerous, and you can always tell that teams are a little fearful when he gets the ball.”
Sporting's captain, center back Matt Besler, told reporters that he'd let the media make the case for Feilhaber – but went on to praise his teammate's skills and contributions.
“He provides a lot of opportunities going forward, and then this season defensively he's been a beast,” Besler said. “He's been recovering balls, winning balls, so he's been the complete player for us this year.”
At the same time, Besler said, Sporting have plenty of respect for Giovinco, who is coming off a midweek hat trick in a 4-1 win over Orlando City SC.
“He can do a lot of things with the ball, without the ball,” Besler said. “He can assist. He can score goals. He can hit penalties, free kicks. He's playing with a lot of confidence right now. So as a fan, it's fun to watch. As a player, it's not very fun to watch, because he's a game-changer and he's a guy that you're always going to have to keep an eye on.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.