Sporting KC

Here’s why Sporting KC needs Benny Feilhaber (it’s not just his play)

Benny Feilhaber rejoins Sporting KC

Midfielder Benny Feilhaber was traded from Colorado back to his former team Sporting KC
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Midfielder Benny Feilhaber was traded from Colorado back to his former team Sporting KC

The absences in Sporting Kansas City’s lineup prompted the technical staff to search for reinforcements. The discernible mental grind of a losing streak prompted the club to narrow the search to a specific player.

Benny Feilhaber.

Upon his return to Kansas City last week via trade with the Colorado Rapids, the 34-year-old Feilhaber acknowledged there are some things he doesn’t do quite as well as he did a decade ago. “I’m at the back end of my career,” he said.

But there’s an element to his presence that remains unchanged — an element that coach Peter Vermes sought to rejuvenate a club that has not won since March.

“I believe that we needed a different type of personality in our team, and I think he brings that, as well,” Vermes said.

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Sporting KC was tipped off to Feilhaber’s availability a few days before the transfer window closed earlier this month. Sporting KC was one of two teams to show serious interest in acquiring him, along with Minnesota.

Feilhaber finds a comfort in the familiarity of Kansas City, a place that provided the best five years of his career. His wife loves the city. He loves the structure of a team he says makes him a better player.

Sporting KC eyed the player ... and the person. He’s sarcastic with more than a hint of seriousness. Unafraid — almost eager — to say the unpopular thing and address the proverbial elephant in the room.

“I understand what Peter wants from me as far as a leadership role, and I have no problem using the things I’ve learned throughout my career and what I know about this league,” Feilhaber said. “He could’ve brought anybody in. I think he brought me in because he knows that’s something I do naturally.”

Vermes has stressed his contentment with the culture among the group. It’s a locker room full of players who seem to get along.

But Sporting has navigated its winless streak without several of its reliable veterans. Roger Espinoza is among the most vocally critical players in practice, but he remains sidelined with a long-term knee injury. Another, captain Matt Besler, is in line to return Saturday against Vancouver (7:30 p.m., Children’s Mercy Park) for the first time in a month. Goalkeeper Tim Melia has become increasingly in the locker room.

Those are components of winning teams in Vermes’ tenure.

“It’s more than (the fact) he can play, because I think everyone knows Benny can play. That’s an easy one,” Vermes said. “But I also think Benny has a personality .. that I’ve always liked for a specific reason because he’s not afraid to put people on edge a little bit. I think having that in the team is good.”

It might come gradually at first. There are several players on the roster who weren’t here during Feilhaber’s first stint with Sporting KC, which ended after the 2017 season — starters Johnny Russell, Felipe Gutierrez and Andreu Fontas among them.

He won’t force the vocal leadership, he says. But with history as the indicator, it won’t take long.

“I’ve always been a pretty honest person,” Feilhaber said. “Guys know when I’m completely messing around and it’s 100 percent not true, and guys know when I’m saying something that is what I really believe. If I see something wrong, I’m gonna say something, even if somebody doesn’t love that I said it. Hopefully they take it the right way and they’re able to change things.

“And that’s the same for me — if someone tells me something, I can maybe be upset at first, but I understand that it needs to change, and I’ll change it.”

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