Sporting Kansas City is becoming quite the refuge for talented players on the outs with the U.S. national team program.
A year ago coach Peter Vermes picked up Bobby Convey on the cheap. The former left-sided U.S. national team attacker (who never made much of an imprint at Livestrong Sporting Park) had worn out his welcome at San Jose.
Now Vermes and Sporting KC have added New England Revolution playmaker Benny Feilhaber, who has become one of the truly mercurial figures around domestic soccer. New England received a 2014 first-round draft pick, a 2015 second round selection plus allocation money.
Few would question Feilhaber’s ability; he has passing skills and vision that almost every MLS club would find useful. So why was New England willing to part with the 2010 U.S. World Cup veteran? And why did he fall so decisively out of the Revolution picture? (He wasn’t even a starter for much of the 2012 stretch, and that for a non-playoff team.)
While his technical skills are more than sufficient, his ability to assimilate – whether that’s on the field or in the locker room or some combination thereof – can now be fairly and openly called into question. Combined with Feilhaber’s estrangement from the national team, there’s no other conclusion to be reached.
Convey had some of the same problems, although his shortcomings were more transparent. Convey went public, for instance, with expressions of displeasure over former national team coach Bob Bradley and later over San Jose boss Frank Yallop.
Feilhaber has never been guilty of the same kind of public venting; his issues of discontent or failure to blend have been more internal and harder to pinpoint – although whispers have always existed that he’s just not the easiest of teammates to be around.
Around Livestrong, Feilhaber could be a swell replacement for Roger Espinoza, who will leave for Wigan in January. Feilhaber is not the same player; he’s more technical, slightly less box-to-box and surely less ferocious in the tackle. But Vermes can always tweak the midfield mix around Feilhaber and Graham Zusi, and the 4-3-3 around Livestrong can flourish anew.
On the other side, New England and manager Jay Heaps got quite a bit for a player they didn’t want around Gillette Stadium, anyway.
SKC could get a lot from the relationship if Vermes can tame Feilhaber’s less desirable properties. If not, the first Feilhaber-Convey-Vermes drama cannot be far away.