LOS ANGELES—Ever since Benny Feilhaber lifted his first MLS Cup five years ago with Sporting Kansas City, following a lengthy penalty kick shootout against Real Salt Lake, much has been said by and about the playmaking midfielder whenever the Utah club comes up.
And yet, this week, months after his January move to expansion outfit LAFC, and days before Thursday's 2018 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs Knockout Round clash with RSL (10:30 pm ET | ESPN2, UniMás, TVAS, TSN), Feilhaber's answer was simple: “I’m definitely not thinking about that.”
“Their team is really different as well from the teams we used to play in big games,” Feilhaber said, after training Tuesday. “We are trying to focus on ourselves these next two, three days to prepare more so than, ‘What is Salt Lake going to try to take away from us?’”
LAFC coach Bob Bradley agreed.
“You never want to let one game throw you off track,” Bradley said, reflecting on how the club planned to bounce back from their 2-1 loss to Sporting KC on MLS Decision Day presented by AT&T. “A quick, honest assessment of the previous game, to try to understand areas where we have to improve, to take lessons and then it’s a continuation of the kind of football ideas and football work that we do all the time.”
For his part, the LAFC coach also isn’t taking too much stock in the two victories the expansion side hold over their inaugural playoff opponent — a 5-1 drubbing in Salt Lake’s home opener in March and a 2-0 home victory in August during a stretch where both teams were rotating players — noting how much depth was on display during RSL’s crucial 4-1 win over the Revolution in Sandy only a couple weeks ago.
“It’s not clear how the game against RSL will unfold,” Bradley said. “I’m not sure either of the two games that [the two teams] played mean anything. The first one was so early in the season and then the second one was during a busy period for them and they made a decision to rotate. It’s also interesting that they won such a big game against New England on a day when they had players out so others stepped up.”
Feilhaber felt his side’s emphatic victory in Sandy earlier this season “matters zero” in relation to Thursday’s game, but does predict LAFC will put in a different kind of performance than what happened in Kansas City on Decision Day.
“I would expect us to be better on the day and really be almost more ballsy in terms of really trying to make the game the way that we have in most of the games during the regular season,” Feilhaber said. “I don’t think it’s too relevant for me or anybody, who [the opponent is] at this point.”
For each of the last four seasons following that 2013 MLS Cup title, Feilhaber and his SKC teammates crashed out at the Knockout Round — 2014 to the New York Red Bulls, 2015 to Portland Timbers, 2016 to Seattle Sounders and last year to Houston Dynamo.
But the difference this time, other than being on a new team, is that LAFC will be hosting the match, where those SKC sides were always playing away.
Feilhaber believes his LAFC squad “have the talent to win a championship.”
“I don’t think we’re happy or satisfied with the things that we have accomplished this year,” Feilhaber said. “We’re eager for this game, we’re eager for the possibility of a deep run in the playoffs.”