When the New England Revolution acquired Benny Feilhaber last week, they knew they were bringing in an experienced central midfielder who could not only help the team maintain possession, but also help spark its attack.
On Saturday, the Revs got their first taste of what the 26-year-old U.S. international could bring to the table. The results? The offense transformed from one that had been held scoreless and looked lifeless in its past two games into one that was constantly threatening and could have easily had more than the season-best three goals it recorded in a 3-2 victory over Sporting Kansas City.
One of the primary beneficiaries of Feilhaber’s addition was Rajko Lekic, the Danish striker who joined the Revs just a week before the Brazilian-born midfielder and previously had played against him when both were in Denmark.
Lekic wasn’t the only one happy to see Feilhaber in the lineup. Veteran goalkeeper Matt Reis, who has often commented on the team’s need to do better keeping possession this season, was pleased to see the quality Feilhaber adds to the team.
“You can see what Benny brings,” Reis said. “It’s nice to have someone else that is really calm on the ball. That’s something we need, someone who can put their foot on it, make the correct pass and get other people involved.”
But the one singing Feilhaber’s praises the loudest was none other than captain Shalrie Joseph, perhaps the player who stands to benefit the most from the Revs' newest addition.
“He brings such composure and such a calmness on the ball that we needed so much [on Saturday],” Joseph said.
While Joseph played as a striker for most of the night on Saturday, he’ll likely return to the central midfield role he’s occupied for the majority of his career, including his previous five matches for the Revs this year. This season Joseph has been grouped with two defensive-minded partners in Pat Phelan and rookie Stephen McCarthy, forcing Joseph to act as the team’s primary creative force in the midfield and leaving much of the pressure on him when the Revs look to attack.
With Feilhaber on board, Joseph will now have a midfield partner every bit as capable of maintaining possession and playing the ball forward. That should alleviate some of the pressure on Joseph, while also making the Revs a more difficult team to defend.
“He’s so technically gifted he can ping the ball anywhere on the field,” Joseph said of Feilhaber. “Having someone next to me like that is definitely going to help me to get forward a little bit more, create more space for myself, and put myself in more dangerous positions and get myself in the box. [That will] allow him to just spread the ball and dictate the tempo, and I can feed off of that a little bit more.”
Though the team was pleased with Feilhaber’s performance on Saturday, the Revs are expecting even better things from him in the future. Prior to Saturday’s match, Feilhaber had only one practice with the team after arriving from Denmark on Thursday, leaving him little time to adjust to his new teammates.
“I think for me it will only get better,” Feilhaber said. “I’ll get more fit and I’ll start playing better and better.”
Getting Feilhaber fully integrated into the system won’t happen overnight, but the early signs -- which included Feilhaber assisting on the Revs' opening strike -- were certainly promising.
“The pieces of the puzzle are starting to come together and you can see what we can do,” Reis said. “It’s just a matter of everyone getting on the same page.”
Sean Donahue is the co-founder of New England Soccer Today (www.nesoccertoday.com), which covers professional soccer within New England.