There were high expectations of Benny Feilhaber coming into 2012. But as the season unfolded, he was soon falling out of favor with his coach as well as the fans. So, what might the off-season spell for the blue-eyed midfielder?
To state the obvious and tell you what you already know: there are some serious questions surrounding Benny Feilhaber right now. Benny went from shoe-in starter to bench-warmer as 2012 unfolded. Rumors of Feilhaber butting heads with Jay Heaps as well as his own teammates started to circulate. Questions started arising mid-season from media and players alike on whether Feilhaber was pulling his weight.
In many ways, Feilhaber started the season with the sky as the limit. But the issues started mounting early on when Jay Heaps was forced to slot him out wide just to justify him being on the pitch (Shalrie Joseph and Clyde Simms had the middle pretty locked up). Benny made it abundantly clear that, while he was happy to be playing and was trying his best wherever Jay needed him, he was none too pleased with not being employed as a central midfielder where he is most comfortable.
Eventually he got his way, and Shalrie Joseph was shipped to Chivas USA. The central midfield position was seemingly his to lose. But things still weren’t clicking. Eventually Jay Heaps started using Feilhaber as a substitute and a few times he didn’t use him at all. First falling out of favor with US Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and then with Jay Heaps, Benny’s situation seemed to turn into a real fall from grace.
Feilhaber started 23 games in 2012. Of those games, the Revs won 5, lost 12, and tied 6. The Revs may have won more than half of their games with Benny on the pitch, but they also picked up their other 4 wins when Feilhaber didn’t even play. When used as a sub, the Revs lost 4 games and tied 2—Benny couldn’t help the Revs rescue a win in any of them.
Amongst his turbulent season, Benny also struggled with taking shots. In fact, accordingly to ESPN’s stats, Feilhaber took 42 shots this season and only 16 of them were on goal. That’s 38%. What it amounted to was only a single goal all season.
Some will still argue, however, that Benny’s strongest suit is his passing. Often described as "clinical", Feilhaber’s desire to slot in centrally was largely based on his past success at passing in the final third and setting up goal-scoring opportunities. And don’t get me wrong, Feilhaber can pick out a mean through-ball pass like it’s nobody’s business. But, still, he only tallied 2 assists in 2012 (he played 29 total games). Now, one of Benny’s biggest gripes from 2011 always seemed to be the lack of quality with which he was surrounded by. But you can’t argue that 2012 didn’t see a huge upgrade in talent compared to 2011. Sure, the New England forwards had their struggles this year, but forwards also tend to struggle when there is a lack of quality service being provided. Chicken or the egg, I guess you could say.
The most recent MLS Player Salaries released on October 1st list Feilhaber’s base salary at $400,000 ($446,000 guaranteed). This makes him the highest-paid player on the team that’s not a designated player (then again, Jerry Bengtson is listed at $120,000). I mean, $400,000 is basically designated player numbers.
For comparison’s sake, below are some of the same stats from this past season for other, similar midfielders around MLS:
Of course the point here is that there are a number of midfielders who had comparable if not better seasons, statistically-speaking, whose salaries are all less than half of Feilhaber’s.
So, what do we make of all this? Well, it’s simple really: Benny’s 2012 season fell well-below his expectations—the fans know it, Jay Heaps know it, and Benny knows it. Perhaps his "fall from grace" is merely situational; maybe he is just unhappy in New England. If that’s the case, then surely there is a way to find him an amicable way out. Moving him elsewhere by way of a trade would of course be ideal, but his salary is a big road-block there.
As with all MLS contracts, the details of Benny’s deal are unknown. It is not clear how long it was initially established to be when he originally signed with MLS, so the question of "what to do with Benny Feilhaber" is not such an easy one to answer. But the Revolution have shown that they can be successful without him on the pitch, so this off-season is bound to address the Benny Feilhaber situation one way or another.