By Kevin Koczwara
It didn’t take long for Benny Feilhaber to make an impact for the New England Revolution. It took the American International just 12 minutes to get himself in the action and help the Revs open the scoring sheet against Sporting Kansas City on Saturday night.
A ball sent across the box found Feilhaber’s feet in traffic just outside the area. The midfielder then tried to set up a shot for himself, but the space he had was closed down by the Kansas City defense. So, Feilhaber had a quick decision to make, either try and take on the shot as anticipated or lay the ball off to someone with a better option. Feilhaber decided to lay the ball off to Marko Perovic, who had acres of space just outside the 18, and the big Serbian forward finished the chance with a swinging shot that beat Sporting’s goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen.
The pass looked routine, but it was the kind of pass the Revolution hadn’t been able to make or complete this year. Feilhaber’s touch on the ball and ability to play a pass to a teammate in tight space has been something the Revs have sorely been lacking in recent years.
“You see the quality that he has and that affects our position as well, because they don’t know whether to stand off or to close him down,” said Revolution manager Steve Nicol. “And obviously with his teammates, it’s good knowing that you’re giving a guy the ball who 99 times of out of 100, he ain’t losing it. So he made a big impact tonight.”
Feilhaber’s quality on the ball wasn’t amiss to the coaching staff when he fell to New England in the allocation draft at pick number three. But, it was a surprise to see him play for an entire 90 minutes for the Revolution on Saturday night because the midfielder hadn’t trained but once all week and had arrived in Foxborough only a few days before the game. Feilhaber wasn’t match sharp, nor was he fully acclimated to the time jump from Denmark to Massachusetts, but that didn’t discourage Nicol from playing him for a full 90 minutes after Pat Phelan was a late scratch with a headache problem.
“His fitness wasn’t really a concern, it was just his sharpness. He hadn’t really trained all week. I spoke with him and had a good conversation with him on Friday and he had said he hadn’t really trained all week, which kind of takes the edge off of you,” said Nicol. “But at the same time, when you have the qualities that he’s got, if he blew a gasket, then we could always take him off. He’s smart, he’s experienced, he uses the ball and saves his legs by making the ball do all the work.”
Getting the start was a major boost for Feilhaber. Although he wasn’t 100 percent going into the game with Sporting, he was able to get the full 90 minutes under his belt. The start also gave him the chance to experience the style of play Major League Soccer brings and the type of game his teammates bring week in and week out.
“In the end (getting the start) helped me out a lot because now I’ve played a solid 90 minutes, and my fitness is only going to go up from there,” said Feilhaber after the game. “Obviously, I’m going to get more used to the style of play in MLS and the style of play of our team.”
At times the Feilhaber became noticeably frustrated with the fouling and the refereeing during his first game. The MLS has had its troubles with referees in the past and again this year, and the physical play of the game is something many players have to adjust to when making a move to the league. For Feilhaber’s skill set, the pace of the game could really enhance his game as he tries to break down defenses from the midfield with his passing ability.
“It’s different. [The MLS has] a higher pace. I think it’s more physical, a lot of fouls, a lot of cards,” said Feilhaber. “At the same time, once I get to the speed of the game and more used to it, I think I’ll be more effective, as well, here. Because of the speed of the game, you tend to have more options to find those little seams and play the ball to our forwards.”
For the Revolution, Feilhaber’s acclimation to the league and good showing in his first game points to a bright future. The 26-year-old midifielder has all the qualities the Revolution were looking for in its next signing. He can pass the ball. He creates for players making runs. His composure on the ball and his ability to find seems of space. And in his first game, Fielhaber showed his ability to adjust to new surroundings and a new league shouldn’t be a struggle. If he keeps improving, there’s a reason to believe the Revolution can again become a fixture in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
Kevin Koczwara can be reached at Kevin.Koczwara@thesoccerguysonline.com.