LOS ANGELES – When LAFC introduced Benny Feilhaber way back in January, he told reporters there was one match he had already circled on his calendar: Oct. 28, away to Sporting Kansas City, his former team.
“It’s a special game for me,” the midfielder told reporters after training Thursday. “The first time I’m going back to Kansas City since I left. It will be exciting to play against my old teammates again, exciting to play at Children’s Mercy [Park] with the fans that treated me so well for five years.”
The former US men's national team player lifted three trophies — one MLS Cup and two U.S. Open Cups — with the Midwest side across his half-decade with SKC. But he couldn’t have known 10 months ago that this Decision Day presented by AT&T fixture (4:30 pm ET | FS1 – Full TV and streaming info) would have so much more at stake.
“There’s a lot of things going on personally and then there’s obviously the more important part of it,” Feilhaber said. “It’s No. 1 vs. No. 2 and the winner takes the conference.”
Sporting became the first visiting team to win at LAFC’s Banc of California Stadium on a warm Saturday evening in August, but both Feilhaber and his manager, Bob Bradley, acknowledged that the loss came at an inopportune moment for the expansion club.
“The first game, the timing of it, after we played the afternoon match against [New York] Red Bull and then the 120 minutes in the Open Cup [semifinal] in Houston, and the travel and the weather, required some rotation,” the head coach said Thursday, adding that he has re-watched video of the SKC defeat many times since.
“We definitely moved some pieces around,” Feilhaber added about the defeat LAFC suffered in that first meeting with his old club. “It’s going to be a little different than how it felt in August.”
Another thing that’s different, according to the ex-SKC man, is the offensive approach of Peter Vermes’ side.
“I feel like this year they really spread around how they attack, a lot of goals coming from the wings,” said Feilhaber. “Not as many coming from up top as Dom [Dwyer, now with Orlando City] used to get, so there’s a little bit of a different approach and obviously they’ve done really well – they’re in first place right now.”
If LAFC manage to return the favor and hand a defeat to SKC at their home ground, first place in the Western Conference and a first-round bye in the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs is their prize. If they lose or draw, a quick turnaround to a midweek Knockout Round match against Portland will be the likeliest scenario.
Right now, though, no one at LAFC is thinking too far past Sunday.
“It’s a multitude of things rolled up into one,” said Feilhaber. “There’s a lot on the line for everybody.”