I’d like to start by making a few things very, very, very clear. First, Benny Feilhaber is an excellent footballer. There are perhaps only a few players in all of MLS who pass or hold the ball as well or better than him. Second, there are also very few players in MLS- particularly American players- who have had as much success as Feilhaber on the club and international level. Finally, at only 27, Feilhaber still has many seasons of football ahead of him and most of those will be played at at least the level of MLS. There is, however, a problem.
For reasons that nobody but Feilhaber can possibly explain or understand, being a part of the New England Revolution is not working for him- or for the Revolution. If I were to take a guess at the problem(s) the top of my list would include that he is frustrated by teammates who cannot play up to his own standards (either technically, tactically, or both) and that he is frustrated by, for the second year running, the relentless losing of the Revolution. The fact is, however, that it doesn’t really matter what the problem is- the real problem is how Feilhaber has chosen to deal with them over the past two years, but especially this year.
Arrogance and aggression are often found in very good football players, but great ones also possess self-control and selflessness and these traits seem to be missing from Feilhaber’s mental make-up. It is excusable if he cannot be that very special player who can single-handedly improve the club by raising the game of his teammates to a higher level (think Larry Bird here)- that is an unfair expectation for all but a very few athletes. What is inexcusable is to allow your frustrations- whatever they may be and however justified they may be- to make the club worse. This, unfortunately, is exactly what Feilhaber has done of late. Particularly this past Saturday evening against the Philadelphia Union when he picked up two foolish yellow cards in the space of two minutes.
It was clear to anyone watching this weekend that Feilhaber wanted out of the match and was going to do whatever he had to in order to get himself out. He earned the first yellow for seeking out and lashing out at the legs of a Union player and the second for one of those tackles that no player already on a yellow card- and one that was still very “warm”- should ever think of making. He then had the audacity to be chirpy about it as he was ejected. Not only was that pointless, it will also follow him with referees for as long as he is in MLS. Any benefit of the doubt he might have gotten as a result of his talent and stature is now gone- if it wasn’t already. One USMNT cap since the 2010 World Cup is also suggests that his stature within the game has already begun to diminish.
Finally, let’s look at some objective factors for why this should be Feilhaber’s last season at Gillette Stadium. In 51 matches with the Revolution Feilhaber has received 8 yellow and 2 red cards (the bulk of them in 2012). That might not seem unreasonable, but when one considers that in the entirety of his pre-Revolution career (domestic and international) he had never received a red card, he is not trending in the right direction. It is also problem for a player who is expected to command the midfield on a match-to-match basis. Compounding this is the fact that while he has played in 28 of the club’s 32 matches, he has only started 22. He’s also been subbed out of 6 of those 22 starts. Just as troubling is that his appearances, starts, and playing time have all decreased as the season has gone on. Clearly, Jay Heaps- at the very least- has lost faith in him. Add all of this to the fact that he is making $400,000 this year and has only 1 goal (11th on the club) and 2 assists (5th on the club) while at the same time being 3rd on the team in fouls committed and 1st for total cards (twice as many as any other player) and the picture becomes clear.
It’s time for him to go.