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.


  1. Chris B

    December 13, 2012 at 2:24 pm

    In the interview released on the team website today I think Heaps alluded to one of the reasons he traded Benny. He said that he wanted the team to show more passions than it did in 2012. I think he was upset at not only some players’ (i.e Benny’s) lack of passion during games but also afterwards because it seemed like the players didn’t greet the fans enough after games regardless of the result.

  2. rick sewall

    December 13, 2012 at 2:48 pm

    I think Benny’s demise happened because he was unable to adjust his game from playing with more talented teams to a less talented team. Really good midfielders make this change. Benny was also too obsessed with the through pass, making it difficult for him to play with the group surrounding him. He never considered the through pass a surprise move. Opposing defenses knew this and adjusted to it.

    • brian

      December 13, 2012 at 10:10 pm

      I like this analysis it makes a lot of sense to me. I’d add to his list of wantings, not only an inability to adapt to less talent but an inability to adapt to coaching. Heaps clearly did not use Benny to his strengths, often playing him out of position. I totally agree the great midfielders adapt to the role they’re given (sometimes better than others but they always adapt). I don’t feel Benny could adapt to the role or style being asked of him and this contributed to his attitude and play. He has talent that’s clear and I believe he will be quite successful with the talent and the favored role in skc. If I’m just simply restating what you are I apologize

  3. Brian O'Connell

    December 13, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    Hey Chris, Personally I disagree with the sentiment that Benny wasn’t passionate. I think, sometimes, a player puts so much energy into his game that he loses his focus earlier than others. To me, that’s what happened to Benny. He tried so hard – maybe too hard – when the team was behind early that he was mentally spent by the hour. And the reason why I think he did this is pretty well summed up in what Rick is saying above: Benny never adjusted his game to playing with less talent around him. There is something to be said about that. Shalrie was able to do it better than most, but Benny I don’t think ever grasped that idea.

    • Chris B

      December 13, 2012 at 6:15 pm

      Well that is true but sometimes Benny just gave up too early. Or he showed his passion in the wrong way (getting red cards and yelling at Heaps).

      • Brian O'Connell

        December 13, 2012 at 6:20 pm

        “he showed his passion in the wrong way” – Chris B

        That pretty accurately sums up Benny’s two seasons in New England!

        • Chris B

          December 13, 2012 at 6:37 pm

          Thanks! This is really what I meant in my first comment. I realize how dumb my first comment sounds now!

  4. rick sewall

    December 14, 2012 at 8:55 am

    I agree that Heaps played Benny out of position, but this type of problem is not unusual in soccer, especially when style of play is in question. If a coach insists on the long ball style, for example, the player has to adjust even though he prefers to play possession. It is easy for a player to get frustrated when faced with this situation [and the one Benny faced], but if he can adjust without getting frustrated ,he is the type of player, from a mental standpoint at least, that every coach wants.

    • Brian O'Connell

      December 14, 2012 at 12:29 pm

      What’s interesting is that Heap’ style of play should’ve allowed Benny to have a banner season. In Benny’s first season, the Revs were a decidedly long-ball team, and he actually played pretty well. Even though the Revs’ form deteriorated in the second half of 2012 and resorted to more Route 1 stuff, the first half featured a more possession-oriented approach – something Benny should’ve thrived in. So what happened? In hindsight, Heaps probably should’ve resisted the urge to move him around the field. He started out on the right, then switched sides, then went central – all in the first half of the season. By the time he was switched to DM, there was really no going back. He wasn’t going to catch fire with all the long balls in the latter part of season, and that’s to speak nothing of his confidence, which by then probably resembled a bowl of shredded wheat.

  5. Brian O'Connell

    December 14, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    @Chris: Not dumb at all!

  6. rick sewall

    December 14, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    It seems {I have never been very close to the club] like Heaps never really took full advantage of Benny’s strengths. I would simply have put him at offensive midfield on a more or less permanent basis, and advised him not to be too predictable and to try to avoid the cards.
    All this Benny discussion should be read by the Rev staff. Good reading.

  7. Robert

    December 15, 2012 at 12:40 pm

    I’m still a Feilhaber fan. Brian, can you find-out what other potential trades were on the table for Benny? Unfortunately, a trade was inevitable, but did Burns have to trade him to another Eastern Conference team? We play Sporting three times this upcoming season?

    • Brian O'Connell

      December 17, 2012 at 11:30 pm

      @Robert, I’ll see what I can dig up about other suitors. Offhand, I’m going to say there weren’t many considering Benny’s price tag, more than anything else. It was a straight salary dump, and SKC was probably one of the few teams that could absorb the hit. But I’ll ask around nonetheless.

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