KANSAS CITY, MO. – Benny Feilhaber is a little more restrained these days. There were no insults, no digs at individual playes or a team’s perception of itself.
“I think it’s always a big rivalry,” Feilhaber told reporters on Wednesday morning. “We’ve played some big games against them. We’ve played an MLS Cup final against them. We always play each other pretty tough, so I think it’s a big rivalry.”
Feilhaber, if you’ll recall, poured gas on Real fans’ smoldering resentment from Sporting’s 10-round shootout victory in the 2013 MLS Cup final when – more than a year later, in 2015 – he declared his dislike for RSL, described the club as “snobby” and pronounced defensive midfielder Kyle Beckerman “a bit of a prick.” Beckerman, in return, called Feilhaber a “bozo.”
Is it still that personal?
It is for Feilhaber, given that – even with Real’s struggles in recent years, culminating in Jeff Cassar’s firing this spring and Mike Petke being hired as the new coach – Sporting haven’t beaten Salt Lake in regular-season play since that frigid December evening.
“They’ve gotten the best of us the last two years,” he said. “So we’ll be looking to reverse that this year.”
Another central figure in the feud, midfielder Roger Espinoza, isn’t quite so sure that the rivalry – which renews on Saturday at Children’s Mercy Park (8:30 pm ET; MLS LIVE) – is quite as heated as it once was, especially with two coaching changes at Rio Tinto since Jason Kreis led the Utah side into the MLS Cup final.
“I think it was over a while ago,” said Espinoza, whose involvement in the feud – he once drew a red card for a hard tackle on Beckerman in 2011 – well predates that meeting, which came while he was playing in England for Wigan Athletic. “In 2013, it was over. A lot of players aren’t there any more. There were, for a little bit, some heated games – but it’s over. I think both teams got over it.
“We probably have more players from that era than they do. A lot of their players are hurt. But still, you don’t want to lose a game at home.”
Center forward Dom Dwyer fell somewhere in the middle, though he declined to revisit his short Twitter feud with RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando or his own declaration that “I hate (Real) very much” – both from the 2014 season.
“They’re a good side,” Dwyer said. “Every time we play them, it’s going to be a battle. We obviously have the MLS Cup against them from a few years ago, and I think that’s where it began. It’s a good battle. They’re a good team.”