Benny Feilhaber in 2010 was a great player. He saw regular time on Bob Bradley's USMNT squad and saw minutes in the US' last three matches in the 2010 World Cup. The future looked as bright for Benny. Opting to come to the US when his contract expired in Denmark should have been our first indication that Benny was not a "great" player, but rather a really good player. A great player would have had to turn down top flight opportunities in Europe. Following our 2010 season I couldn't have cared less; we all assumed that Benny Feilhaber in a Revolution midfield paired with Shalrie Joseph would create one of the most balanced and dominant midfields in MLS.
When I first tweeted #BringBennyToBoston I would have never imagined it would have ended like this...(Obligatory self reference?)
It didn't happen in 2011. Benny and Shalrie weren't enough to turn to the dismal 2011 Revs around. I remember hearing the classic, overused, "he has to get used to the physicality of MLS!" mantra. I never said he wasn't physical enough. I didn't care that he was soft as a butterfly and drew penalties for us at an alarming rate. The concern should have been he didn't look like a player who was head and shoulders above his peers in Major League Soccer as we all expected. He didn't have the on the field presence of a World Cup veteran.
Moments of brilliance were only just that: moments. Benny's ability, vision and finesse were visible, but only in flashes. By halfway through the 2012 campaign when Shalrie Joseph was traded you had to believe the leadership role, the on-the field general role would be handed off to Feilhaber. Benny could rise to the occasion and become the leader, the veteran the young club sorely needed. Well, that never happened, either; it's tough to be a field general if you are still battling for a starting position. In 2012, Feilhaber played 101 minutes more than in 2011, but his goals dropped from 4 to 1, and assists from 7 to 2. Confusion is more with the lack of assists this past year when he had weapons like Saer Sene, Lee Nguyen and Jerry Bengtson available to him that weren't in 2011. The excuse here will be he had to play more defense once we traded Shalrie.
What I will remember most about our short affair with Benny Blue Eyes was his attitude and lack of leadership. This is not a complete knock against Feilhaber, who I believe will thrive in an established system, surrounded by talent like he will be in Kansas City. He couldn't be what we needed him to be in New England. The leadership void created by the loss of Taylor Twellman, Jay Heaps, Michael Parkhurst and Steve Ralston will not be filled overnight or even over the course of a few seasons. We all just hoped Benny would fill some of it. He didn't.
There are some actors who can carry a movie by their performance alone. Then there are other actors who aren't bred for that role, but will compliment a cast of quality actors. Benny won't make a bad team good; he's more likely to make an already good team great.
Benny had two years on a developing team full of new blood to solidify his leadership position. He leaves having been unable to secure a starting role on the regular. His multiple "outbursts" on the field were more petulant than passionate. Several times he inexplicably gave up on an effort and opted for some dramatic pose of falling to the ground rather than trying to finish the rebound. These things are inexcusable for someone you are paying near DP amounts.
How can fans be angry and upset with this deal? I agree wanting more than some draft picks and money is reasonable, but Benny's performance wasn't exactly a secret and probably tempered some offers from around the league. At any rate, you remove a stale piece from your roster who wasn't producing. Declining his option was a logical step to possibly buying him back at a lower salary, one he's more deserving of. In 2012, Feilhaber cost the Revs $395,500 more than Lee Nguyen. Who was more valuable to Revs this year?
This where the business end comes in. As much as you may have limited faith that the Front Office will make use of money afforded to us by the Shalrie and Benny moves, one has to believe freeing up that cap space is a good thing. Every club has to look at production, compare it to market value, and make hard decisions. Freeing up nearly $400k by offloading an under-performing player who failed to meet expectations is not a bad decision, it's a rational one...and with the arrival of Andy Dorman and Kalifa Cisse, it's an even smarter one.