New England Soccer Today

Failure to Launch

Benny Feilhaber was shipped to Sporting KC after two disappointing seasons in New England. (Photo: Kari Heistad/

Benny Feilhaber was shipped to Sporting KC after two disappointing seasons in New England. (Photo: Kari Heistad/

Breaking up is hard to do.

Less than two years ago, Benny Feilhaber’s gift-wrapped arrival in Foxboro had many believing that the creative midfielder would help lead the club back to the postseason.

There was only one problem: that reality never came to pass.

On Tuesday, the Revolution cut ties with Feilheber by trading him to Sporting K.C. for cash and draft picks, thus putting the period on one of the most puzzling stints put together by a player with so much potential.

So what went wrong?

It’s hard to say. Looking back at Feilhaber’s first season in New England, the statistics suggest that he did as well as to be expected. Yes, the club trudged through its worst season in 16 years. But Feilhaber was one of the most reliable players on the pitch, as he collected four goals to go along with a team-high seven assists.

Following the 2011 season, the club parted ways with longtime manager Steve Nicol. Weeks later, Jay Heaps was hired, and the roster was overhauled, with the intent to attack, and then attack some more. On paper, it looked like Feilhaber would become the biggest beneficiary of the new-look Revolution.

Early in the season, Heaps utilized Feilhaber on the wings, hoping that the midfielder’s passing would help open up the attack. The offense struggled early, save for a surprising 3-1 win over the eventual champion Galaxy.

Despite a quiet start to the season – a start that didn’t see him register a single offensive statistic through his first 12 games – he’d eventually find the scoresheet in June. In a 2-0 win over Chicago, Feilhaber registered a goal and an assist, and by all accounts, it appeared he was good to go for the second half of the season.

Yeah, not so much.

Feilhaber never put together another game like that in 2012. Instead, he resumed his attacking struggles. Perhaps in an attempt to take some of the heat off of Feilhaber, Heaps assigned him to the defensive midfielder’s role. But the move only seemed to make thing worse for all parties involved. Even though he wasn’t even close to the player who had the fanbase frothing from the mouth, it was clear that he wasn’t going to find his groove parked in front of the back four.

Before long, Feilhaber was pushed in front of Clyde Simms, with one more opportunity to rediscover his form. It never came. Feeling the self-inflicted pressure to break through and carry the club on his shoulders – especially in the wake of the Shalrie Joseph trade – Feilhaber only pressed harder. And when a creative player resorts to such a measure, very little good often comes out of it.

Case in point: the Oct. 6 game at Philadelphia. Within the course of two minutes, he was cautioned twice and shown the door, and leaving the Revolution without one of their strongest players as they started down one-goal deficit in crunch time.

Say what you will about his attitude. No one, not even Feilhaber himself, will debate that his temper has gotten the best of him. The fire always burned within him, and at times, it got him into trouble.

But a player whose talents delivered him to the World Cup doesn’t lose his skills and abilities overnight. Or over the course of year, for that matter.

But once he was paired with a club in the midst of a lengthy rebuilding process, the margin for error was slim. Every mistake he made seemed to hurt the club more than it should have. And when the opportunities weren’t always there, he forced it, which only lead to more frustration.

That frustration only grew when Heaps shifted him to defensive midfielder before he was altogether dropped from the starting XI. Was it deserved? In many respects, it was, especially for the club’s highest-paid player, whose biggest enemy was himself.

Some will blame the Brazilian-born playmaker for failing to reach the potential that helped him become a National Team regular. He read the game well and could put through a killer pass at the drop of a Revolution snapback. His attacking instincts were supposed to make the Revolution better. Much better.

However, without a strong supporting cast,  Feilhaber was very much an island. As a result, there was little he could do to keep the from sinking to the depths of the Eastern Conference table.

In letting go of what could have been, the Revolution must come to grips with the fact that they’re banking heavily on the future while shipping off a player who’s just entering his prime at age 27.

As for Feilhaber, he walks away from a two-season stint that saw his stock plummet, especially with respect to his National Team prospects.

Clearly, the relationship benefited nobody.

Taking all the above into consideration, the fact is that Benny Feilhaber was simply the wrong player for the wrong team at the wrong time. That much was true, especially the way the 2012 season unfolded. And as a result, there was nothing left for Feilhaber and the Revolution to do other than to accept the fact that it wasn’t meant to be.


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