On the scales of player evaluation, I keep a thumb on the area marked “locker room chemistry.”
That is to say, I might place more importance in that area than others. But I do admit that it’s a balance. One or two individuals who are more “takers” than “givers,” as Jurgen Klinsmann labeled the divergent set in a previous post, can be tolerated if the rest of the locker room has the right policing, professionalism and team-oriented guidance.
How all this relates to the Benny Feilhaber’s move west from New England to Sporting Kansas City:
Personally, I have my doubts about Feilhaber’s ability to peacefully assimilate. At this point, after more than one example of not finding a balanced place with a coach and a club, it’s on Sporting Kansas City’s newest member to show that he can get along well with others.
But if he can, and assuming SKC manager Peter Vermes finds the right kind of ball winner to play behind Feilhaber and Graham Zusi, as I said yesterday, he could make Livestrong Sporting Park an even hotter zone for opposition.
MLSSoccer.com’s Matthew Doyle does a good job in this piece of explaining why. Doyle makes two central points:
One, that while departing linchpin midfielder Roger Espinoza has a bigger (much bigger, perhaps) engine, what the Wigan-bound man did with the ball won’t resemble what Feilhaber does with it.
Feilhaber is a chance generator, the best pure central midfielder in the league at generating chances (and big chances) from the run of play over the course of 90 minutes. He could easily have had double-digit assists if the Revs had finished at an even below-average clip.”
Doyle referred there to a club that scored 39 goals, sixth-lowest total in MLS. Past Saer Sene’s 11 strikes, no Revolution forward had more than two. Yikes!
Doyle’s other point central point here is that Feilhaber is better in traffic than Espinoza, which is surely true. He mentions Feilhaber’s ability to move north-south with the ball; I never really thought that was an issue for SKC. Vermes’ teams pushed the ball reliably, quickly into the opposition third – although the quality of chances created will surely rise now thanks to Feilhaber’s presence.
Of course, there’s risk along with that potential reward, and that’s where Doyle finds an interesting slant on the former Revolution midfielder’s playmaking talent:
It’s a skill few US players have, both the patience to hold the ball under pressure and the technique to ride a tackle and still make a possession-positive pass. It’s gotten him into trouble before, of course, as he can be turnover prone. But SKC recover their own turnovers at a higher rate than any other MLS team, so that’s not a deal breaker.”
That is a great point. Feilhaber can give away the ball around Livestrong – so long as it happens in the right places – and know that a hard-pressing, high-pressure team around him will get it back. And probably quickly.