The framework of a contract had been approved by both sides, and so Benny Feilhaber and his wife planned a trip to Israel for later this month. The excursion denoted the final step before Feilhaber would agree to sign a deal with Israeli club Hapoel Be’er Sheva, a signature that would officially conclude his tenure with Sporting Kansas City.
An unexpected phone call halted the plans. Two weeks before Feilhaber was set to depart for Israel, Sporting KC approached his representatives with a contract offer.
“The timing was close to the point of no return,” Feilhaber said. “It was very close to getting done (with Hapoel Be’er Sheva) before they came to my agent kind of out of the blue. It wasn’t exactly what we ended up agreeing to, but it gave me hope that something would get done.
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“In the end, the most important thing was they wanted me back, and I always wanted to stay here.”
The deal will pay Feilhaber more than the designated player threshold in MLS, a source told The Star. That number fell at $457,500 in 2016. In other words, Feilhaber, who will be 32 next season, will receive a raise from the $412,187.50 he earned in 2016, according to figures released by the MLS Players Union.
But he will not occupy one of the club’s three designated player spots. Sporting KC will instead utilize either targeted allocation money or general allocation money to “buy down” his salary.
The contract came together over the past 10 days. Sporting KC made only one offer during the 2016 regular season, which Feilhaber classified as “nowhere close to what I would be willing to sign.”
That prompted him to instruct his agent to seek other opportunities at the end of the season. Hapoel Be’er Sheva was a natural destination. The club made Sporting KC a transfer offer for Feilhaber in August, which Sporting KC rejected. Hapoel Be’er Sheva renewed its interest in the offseason.
But before Feilhaber made a scheduled trip overseas to watch a match, Sporting KC presented him with the two-year offer.
“It’s been our intention all along to do everything we can to re-sign Benny,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said in a press release. “We appreciate the professionalism that he and his agent have shown throughout the process and are very excited that he is coming back to our club. Benny has been an important part of the club’s success over the past four years and we look to continue that moving forward.”
Feilhaber told The Star he insisted on a deal that spanned at least two years, excluding club options. He will be a free agent when the pact expires after MLS opened free agency last offseason to players 28 and older who have been the league for at least eight seasons.
Feilhaber, a World Cup veteran, has spent the past four years in Kansas City after being traded from New England, totaling 24 goals and 38 assists in his tenure here. He recorded a club-record 20 assists across all competitions in 2015, when he finished third in the league’s MVP voting.
“This is the place where I’ve had the four most successful years of my career, and I know I’ll continue to be successful here,” Feilhaber said. “I know this team is ambitious to win championships. Both my daughters were born here. My family lives here. I love playing in a stadium that sells out every match.
“I think for all those reasons, it made perfect sense to come back.”