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LAFC 2018 Player Postmortem: Benny Feilhaber

Veteran midfielder was outfield ironman for expansion team.

MLS: Sporting KC at Los Angeles FC Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Benny Feilhaber was one of a few major acquisitions for Los Angeles Football Club ahead of their debut season who came over through MLS trade. In this case, LAFC sent $200,000 General Allocation Money and $200,000 Targeted Allocation Money to Sporting Kansas City for Feilhaber.

The midfielder had been Sporting’s playmaker, someone who was rugged enough to do plenty of defending in that club’s physical style, but who was ultimately tasked with scoring free kicks and setting up his teammates. While he was a couple years off his peak season, in 2015, when he was an MLS MVP finalist, the then-32 year old was still an ever-present part of their lineup and considered a good central midfielder.

But his increasing age and relatively costly contract left Sporting willing to part ways, and LAFC pounced on the chance to pick him up. Expected to play a major role with the expansion club, he did just that, playing the most minutes on the roster among outfield players in 2018 and second to only Tyler Miller.

Feilhaber LAFC 2018 statistics

2018 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
2018 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
MLS Regular Season 34 32 2,804 3 6 38 11 5 0
U.S. Open Cup 3 2 171 1 0 8 4 0 0
MLS Playoffs 1 1 73 0 0 1 1 0 0
Total 38 35 3,048 4 6 47 16 5 0

The big change with the change in teams came with a shift in Feilhaber’s responsibilities at LAFC. No longer the team’s midfield playmaker, LAFC strictly speaking didn’t use a typical No. 10 set-up at all, with Feilhaber and most of the time Lee Nguyen sharing attacking and defensive responsibilities. They played very much a hybrid role — some deep-lying playmaker, some box-to-box midfielder, and some holding mid, too.

That’s...not easy, no matter how veteran you may be, and it can be argued that Bob Bradley eschewed a defensive midfielder to force a major position change in two attacking midfielders as a result, with Nguyen not known for defending at all in his previous stop in New England, and Feilhaber known for occasionally giving up very costly turnovers at Sporting.

I think you can still argue whether LAFC need a traditional defensive midfielder, even with an attacking style of soccer, but given the brief, Feilhaber was largely successful. He’s been known as an attacking player throughout his career, but one reason he was so successful at Sporting was because he was capable of defending. Going back to his time with the U.S. U-20s, he could man-mark one of the greatest players of all time to complete success. Feilhaber may have been going through a position change, but compared to the transformation of Nguyen, who truly had never been required to play a defensive role in midfield his entire career, Feilhaber had at least some experience at playing defense in midfield.

So while his counting stats went way down in 2018, Feilhaber was a fixture in Bob Bradley’s lineup, clearly one of his guys, and amid the youth of Mark-Anthony Kaye, Eduard Atuesta, and Andre Horta and the experience of Nguyen, Feilhaber was the closest thing to an ever-present player in the field. And given the challenges, playing as a defensive midfielder who wasn’t actually a defensive midfielder in a hell for leather style of play, he was largely successful at the role.

Feilhaber is now out of contract and an MLS Free Agent, so he could bolt to another MLS team this offseason with no compensation to LAFC. He’ll be 34 at the start of the 2019 season, so one wonders how much longer he’ll be able to play heavy minutes at a high level. Still, there has to be a market of some sort for him.

However, while I bet LAFC are looking to bring him back for the new season, I bet they and probably just about any MLS team will ask him to take a pay cut. It seems unlikely they want to let their outfield minutes leader walk away, but the $625,000 he made this season is likely too much for any prudent side to spend on a player who may only have one or two good years left, and could hit a wall as soon as this year.

So we’ll see what happens. LAFC have options in midfield, but Feilhaber, who I was a bit surprised was not made captain when Laurent Ciman was transferred out of the club, was a key player for the expansion side. It’s far from guaranteed, but I think there’s a good chance LAFC will try to re-sign him for a second season in black-and-gold.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!