Sporting KC's Benny Feilhaber leads MLS Week 19's top performers
When a player feels good, he shouldn’t be afraid to show it. Playing with swagger boosts a player’s confidence and his teammates’, and it provides fans with an extra bit of entertainment to go along with the skill on display.
Sporting Kansas City midfielder Benny Feilhaber earned his swagger in Week 19 of Major League Soccer, capping an excellent week by curling in an inch-perfect free kick on Saturday. In the 10th minute of a nationally televised match against the L.A. Galaxy, Feilhaber bent a shot over the wall and into the left side of the net then turned away, shrugging as if to say, “What do you expect?”
Kansas City won 2-1, the same score by which it won earlier in the week against the Columbus Crew, when Feilhaber assisted the opening goal with his service on a corner kick and smashed in the winner off the crossbar in the final minute of stoppage time. It’s no surprise he was in position to score the goal, as Feilhaber seems to be around the play no matter where it moves, in the exact definition of a box-to-box midfielder.
One of his opponents on Saturday, the L.A. Galaxy’s Robbie Keane, has a similarly mercurial tendency. As the Galaxy beat up on the New England Revolution on Wednesday, it was Keane who made the victory look as emphatic as the 5-1 score suggested.
After putting home a bending long shot for the opener, he provided Gyasi Zardes with two can't-miss goals. Keane then bookended the Galaxy’s performance by scoring the fifth goal, picking off a pass back and rounding goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth before coolly finishing with a pass into the goal from outside the penalty area despite a defender dashing toward the line.
The finish was more difficult than it seemed, as it had to be placed precisely where it couldn’t be reached. That ability to make the complex look simple is something Keane and Feilhaber share, and while both clearly work hard all match, the game never seems to overwhelm them.
Where Feilhaber’s performance topped Keane’s was in the match they went head-to-head. Feilhaber again carried his team to victory while Keane couldn’t, despite scoring again and creating a couple other chances. Both are worthy of Player of the Week honors, but Feilhaber wins it with two game-winning efforts; Keane bullied the Revs, but he couldn’t do the same to Sporting.
Feilhaber and Keane are joined by nine others on the Planet Futbol Week 19 Best XI:
MLS WEEK 19 BEST XI
• Zac MacMath (Philadelphia Union): Always a strong shot-stopper, MacMath came up big to preserve an important midweek win against New York. He made a couple saves right after the Union went up 1-0 and a double save in the 70th minute that sealed the victory.
• Ambroise Oyongo (New York Red Bulls): The 23-year-old Cameroonian has played vital minutes for the Red Bulls in the last month, and he provided the assist for the only goal against the Union. Oyongo played two solid matches at left back again for New York last week, shoring up what seemed to be a weak point not too long ago.
• Doneil Henry (Toronto FC): Quickly emerging as a team leader, the young Canadian international anchored the Toronto FC back line against Vancouver on Wednesday with five interceptions, eight clearances and an 85-percent pass completion rate. He has begun to show some consistency in his performances as well.
• Danny O’Rourke (Portland Timbers): While partner Liam Ridgewell made his much-anticipated debut and showed some hard-nosed ability defensively, it freed O’Rourke to complement him as a distributor against Colorado. He completed 91 percent of his passes in the attack and made 14 clearances defensively in one of the most complete performances for a Timbers center back this season.
• Nick Hagglund (Toronto FC): Used primarily as a center back so far this year, Hagglund played twice at right back last week for Toronto. He came off the bench for Mark Bloom on Wednesday against Vancouver and did enough to keep his place on Saturday against Dallas, turning in two good games.
• Bernardo Añor (Columbus Crew): Añor scored both goals in the Crew’s 2-1 win against Montreal, the second of which was a screaming shot across goal from well outside the penalty area. He found a lot of space cutting inside from the left and taking shots from distance, scoring a goal with each foot from similar positions.
• Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City): This week’s best player showcased his technique and vision as Sporting’s box-to-box man in two games last week. He scored two goals and added an assist, playing a part in three of four team goals in two wins.
• Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers): Valeri scored Portland’s game-winning goal on a stunner from distance, hitting it with the outside of his foot so it swerved away from Clint Irwin and into the top corner. He also created three scoring chances and completed 85 percent of his passes as the Timbers’ primary playmaker.
• Andrés Escobar (FC Dallas): The Colombian scored Dallas’ first goal in a 2-0 win over New England on Saturday, and he was generally a menace on the left flank all game. Escobar was incisive, completing all but one of his passes, putting four shots on target and creating four scoring chances for his teammates.
• Robbie Keane (L.A. Galaxy): Keane terrorized the Revolution in midweek, scoring a brace and assisting Gyasi Zardes’ two goals in a 5-1 win. In a one-goal loss to Kansas City, he scored his team’s only goal and hit the crossbar later in the game as well.
• Eddie Johnson (D.C. United): Johnson scored the opening goal on a penalty and assisted what would turn out to be the game-winner for Perry Kitchen in a 3-1 win over Chivas USA. He did it all without ever really seeming to get out of his comfort zone, cruising all match.