The Full 90

Full 90 Mailbag: What is Benny Feilhaber’s best position?

Juninho (19) of the LA Galaxy and Benny Feilhaber (10) of Sporting Kansas City compete for the ball in Kansas City, Kansas, at Sporting Park on Saturday, July 19, 2014.
Juninho (19) of the LA Galaxy and Benny Feilhaber (10) of Sporting Kansas City compete for the ball in Kansas City, Kansas, at Sporting Park on Saturday, July 19, 2014. Special to the Star

Fresh off its first win of the season, The Full 90 mailbag roars back to life with multiple questions about Sporting KC midfielder Benny Feilhaber, some love for Oriol Rosell, Dom Dwyer’s continued drought and the lower tiers of American soccer.

Let’s get to it.

So far this season, Benny Feilhaber has played as part of a “double-pivot” midfield (alongside Roger Espinoza), as a deep-lying playmaker/defensive midfielder (behind Espinoza/Paulo Nagamura) and as box-to-box midfielder (alongside Nagamura and ahead of Servando Carrasco).

That’s just through four games and certainly speaks to the new-found versatility and rehabilitation of Feilhaber — who came to KC with some “one-dimensional guy who zones out of games” baggage.

Even though the sample size is small, I think you’re right that Feilhaber seems to fit more comfortably into the team higher up in the midfield (he’s a natural chance creator, averaging 2 key passes per game last season). It’s been his best position during his KC career.

Against New York City, he was far more active in the attacking third (where he was a non-factor in the games in the deeper spot) while also leading the team (and league) in recoveries with 19. He had two key passes as well.

It’s hard to say that the team seems better though, since through four games Peter Vermes has pretty drastically adjusted the team’s approach to shore up the defense.

I think we’ll see Feilhaber in the advanced role for the time being with Graham Zusi struggling with injury (and likely out two weeks with a hamstring issue) and Krisztian Nemeth and Bernardo Añor still working their way into the team. Basically, Feilhaber is the only consistent creative force Vermes can turn to.

While he’s had another solid start to a season, you can pick apart his lack of accuracy thus far (only completing 73% of his passes), especially north-to-south passes in the attacking half. Kansas City is struggling to get its attack going, it will help to have its best passer improve his accuracy.

As for your question about who can take over the holding midfield role, I’d like to explore another piece of this situation first. It’s all connected.

The obvious reason why Feilhaber has been utilized deeper is that he has the tools to replicate Uri Rossel’s role in Vermes’ formation. He reads the game quickly, has the foot speed to act on instinct and recover possession, can throttle between short and long passes, and understands how to control tempo.

He isn’t as good of a defender as Uri overall, though. Uri really was the whole enchilada. He was a unique talent and extremely important to the team’s success, that has become evident.

But you know what another important part of the team’s success in 2013? Having someone like Benny Feilhaber in the Benny Feilhaber position.

He was the forward-thinking balance to Uri’s “recover and possess” game. And, honestly, there are fewer players like Feilhaber on the roster right now than there are like Uri.

Which is why I think the experiment with the 4-2-3-1 against New York to start the season was interesting. With Feilhaber and Roger Espinoza, Vermes has two unique midfielders capable of sharing creative, possession and defensive responsibilities. I’d like to see more of that to see if they can strike up a dynamic partnership and drive the team in a new direction.

Once Vermes has sorted through the defensive issues this team is still working through of course.

Having said all of that...

Despite all of the talk of experimentation, Vermes has lined up with a true defensive midfielder three of the four games in order to shore up that still-coalescing defense.

It’s only been one game, but Mr. Alex Morgan seems like a nice fit in the holding spot. (It only took me about 600 words to answer the opening question.)

Against New York City, Servando Carrasco had a pretty good game. You didn’t really notice him, which is totally fine at that position. There aren’t a lot of flashy stats to throw around to describe a guy who pressures passing lanes, makes supporting runs and shields the backline when fullbacks push forward. (Though, six interceptions, 13 recoveries and four tackles kinda does that.)

He won’t flick dazzling diagonal balls to switch the field of play (like Feilhaber can or Uri could), but he’s not a turnover machine (like Lawrence Olum could be last year).

With Espinoza returning to the mix this week, I’d like to see how Carrasco could fit behind a more mobile midfielder and with a more open game plan. The return of Espinoza should give KC a bit more bite in the middle against Philadelphia and, most likely, the advantage in possession as well.

Not only is it acceptable, we all understand Sean. We not only parted ways with a potentially transcendent midfielder nearing his prime, we have had to somehow survive nearly a year without any updates to “Uri Rosell: Music Critic.”

Pass some Kleenax, it’s getting a bit dusty in here.

(I see what you did there.)

While possession and patIence are worthwhile, sometimes Letting your best aDvanced playmaker Cut loose in the Attacking half is a greaT idea aS well.

(I’ll just leave this right here Alex.)

This is Exhibit A why I don’t like to talk about rumors and why general managers/technical directors hate when rumors get out too early. Most of these “rumors” tend to be from agents trying to use a foreign league as leverage for a new contract. I’m not sure if that’s the exact case here, but it’s not uncommon.

I think KC will take a look at a few summer additions, but bear in mind that Jeferson isn’t the only mid-season acquisition that failed to launch, he was only the most high profile. (Lest we forget the forgettable tenure of Jorge Claros for example.)

Last year, I was publicly skeptical of Dwyer to start the season. He spent most of the season proving me wrong. (Well, not specifically me, but I did get sorta subtweeted once.)

This year, I was raving about him to start the season. No goals. See the trend?

So, I’m going to say that he’ll never score again this year just so he goes out and bangs home a hat trick this weekend.

Given the history of soccer leagues in this country and the sudden expansion boom, it’s definitely a possibility that a bust could be on the horizon. However, I’m pretty bullish on the lower leagues right now. (Both the USL and NASL are fighting over division two status in the soccer pyramid.)

There’s a natural inclination from MLS fans (and I’m guilty of this in the past) to view the lower leagues as either competition or a feeder system for players (and now franchises too).

But they have carved out an interesting space in the soccer-sphere.

The USL has aligned itself with MLS allowing affiliations and team-supported clubs to help push the league to 24 teams. It has the potential to be a very big benefit to the development of younger players in this country if more teams can use it like the Los Angeles Galaxy has used Los Dos. They will survive longer with the help of MLS.

On the other hand, NASL has positioned itself as a psuedo-MLS alternative — no salary caps or roster restrictions, open-market player movement and built a league that serves small-ish and/or under-served soccer markets (like Indianapolis, Jacksonville, the Carolinas, Ottawa, etc.).

It will be a tough road for NASL once Minnesota United FC departs in 2018, and could become more difficult if the San Antonio Scorpions and others follow suit. (The same goes for the USL with Sacramento Republic FC.)

However, as long as MLS adheres to the single-entity structure and doesn’t allow free player movement (and, importantly, doesn’t consider promotion/relegation) the NASL will offer a viable alternative. Just look at the case of Haji Wright, a promising young American prospect (of the Galaxy academy) who chose to sign with the New York Cosmos. Minnesota’s development of Miguel Ibarra is another positive step for the league.

I am actually looking forward to checking out a few games this year in both of these leagues. USL games are broadcast (all of them) on YouTube. The NASL can be found on ESPN3 this season.

OK, this is my question and it’s tangentially related to the previous question because Sporting KC has sent two players on loan to the NASL’s San Antonio Scorpions (Jon Kempin and Saad Abdul-Salaam). KC has sent just one player (Mikey Lopez) to its USL affiliate Oklahoma City Energy FC. What gives?

Kansas City hasn’t entered into a partnership with the Scorpions. I just think Vermes likes the way the defending champs play. It doesn’t hurt that the team has a roster littered with former MLS vets (including former Toronto DP Eric Hasli!).

It’s a pretty complicated situation, but as I understand it Sporting KC wants to build a residential academy and a USL Premier Development League team (a tier below USL and NASL). MLSsoccer.com’s Steve Brisendine did a really great job exploring the issue (and the Hispanic population that lives in part of southwest Kansas) this week and I highly advise you check it out.

Thanks for the great questions, as always.

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