The weight of the world is no longer on Benny Feilhaber’s shoulders.
Reinserted into Sporting Kansas City’s lineup for the first time since May 19, Feilhaber made an immediate impact during Sunday’s 2-1 win at the Chicago Fire.
Feilhaber, a former U.S. men’s international who was acquired in an offseason trade with the New England Revolution, notched his first goal in Sporting blue during the 6th minute.
After drilling a free ball in the Fire box off the inside of the left post for his first tally since June 2, 2012 — a span of 36 games — relief washed over Feilhaber.
“For any player, it does (come as a relief),” Feilhaber said. “When you haven’t gotten off the mark yet, that first goal is usually what you need to kind of get going. Hopefully, that’s the case for me.”
Feilhaber was brought in with the idea that he could help unlock opposing defenses and bring a spark (as well as an added dimension) to a Sporting KC attack that generated only 42 goals last season.
Instead, Feilhaber seemed to fall out of favor as the calendar turned to May.
Coach Peter Vermes might dispute that: “I haven’t lost one ounce of confidence in Benny whatsoever,” Vermes said in late May. “It’s the way I’m managing the games at the moment and trying to adapt him to all the things that we’re doing. That includes physically as well, and not just technically or tactically.”
Still, the facts are that after starting the first nine matches, Feilhaber made only two starts in the next nine games, including four in which he didn’t play a single minute.
He was even left off the travel squad for a June 22 match at FC Dallas, but perhaps last Sunday’s game will turn out to be a turning point in his season — and perhaps his career arc.
Feilhaber admitted he put loads of pressure on his shoulders before the Chicago match, but the fact that he responded positively fuels his hope for better days moving forward.
“Ever since I lost my starting spot, I put a lot of pressure on myself, and that’s probably been a good thing,” said Feilhaber, who subbed off in the 52nd minute. “It took me a little time to realize I needed a little more, maybe I needed a little bit more in the tank. Since that time, I’ve really spoken with (Sporting KC fitness coach) Mateus (Manoel) to find out the things I can do to get that little bit extra.”
The early-season storyline was that Feilhaber would need time to adjust to Vermes’ high-intensity system, but that excuse has run its course.
“Tactically, the adjustment period is over,” Feilhaber said. “I understand what we want to do on the field, and now it’s about doing it.”
Maybe it’s not second nature yet, but Feilhaber indicated that the only thing holding him back has been his fitness — and he’s working on it. He’s made strides, but work remains to be done.
“This is probably the fittest I’ve been in a really long time, and I’m trying to progressively continue that, because if you’re not continually improving then you’re probably going to start faltering again,” Feilhaber said. “One hundred percent it takes more fitness to be a part of this team than other teams. That’s where I’m at right now — trying to continue to build (that fitness).”
Now that Feilhaber has earned another chance, he hopes to continuing capitalizing as he did Sunday against the Fire.
“Now that I’ve got my chance to get back on the field, it’s more important than ever to prove that you should be out there,” Feilhaber said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself, and Peter puts a lot of pressure on his players. It’s going to take good performances to stay out there.”