After a great display during January with the United States Men’s National Team, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that Benny Feilhaber will be receiving a call up in March. Where does this leave Sporting though? Benny Feilhaber has several facets to his game that are key to Sporting’s success. First and foremost is his playmaking ability and care that he takes of the ball in tight situations. Second is his tempo setting ability. Benny has this great ability to slow or speed up the game with just a pass or two. Lastly is his grit and willingness to defend, which probably goes unnoticed by most. So who can fill this role for Sporting when Feilhaber is likely away?
Most folks will say after the brilliant display at left back last season why would we move Jimmy into the center of the park? Jimmy’s technical ability goes without question. His dribbling and ability to pull what seems like magic at times can remind you of Benny. While I don’t know that he quite has the vision to split defenses with a single pass, I do think that he has the fitness after playing as a left back in Peter Vermes’s system as a left back (arguably the most taxing position on the field in his system form all of the overlapping runs they are asked to make). All of this doesn’t even take into account that there’s already an example of someone that Vermes’s took from playing outside back and made a center mid, Roger Espinoza.
I put a question mark by Blessing because I really like him on the wing. During the preseason match against Colorado it was evident that Blessing’s speed was everything that was promised. I’m just not as sure that Sporting could really utilize his speed if he’s playing in the middle. In the preseason game against Colorado Blessing several times looked to turn from the inside and cut into the middle and dribble past defenders. While I’m not quite sure if he knows how to use his body quite enough yet to play in the middle of the field in MLS I think Blessing has the dynamic ability to be an exciting prospect.
Think Mustivar is a likely option if Medranda isn’t available for whatever reason. While this would be a safe bet for Peter Vermes, it wouldn’t necessarily be the most attractive choice. Mustivar hasn’t really ever been known for his creative ability, but rather his ability to get the ball off his foot quickly. Mustivar rarely ever takes more than three touches and while one can appreciate that from a player playing a defensive mid role, it’d be preferred to see someone who has the ability to dribble past defenders when needed.
Judging off of what we’ve seen this preseason it looks like Medranda is the first choice back up for Benny (always taking preseason lineups with a grain of salt). One player that isn’t in this list that might have a say is Kevin Oliveira. Oliveira is coming off a torn ACL form last season, but in just 13 games last season he claimed the number two spot on the USL’s 20 under 20 list. Also left off this list is Benji Joya because in my personal opinion I’m just not sold on him being in the midfield.
All of this being said, it will be a bit of a waiting game to see if Benny is even called into the national team, as well as who else could be missing games for international duty. Or who knows, maybe Vermes has something up his sleeve that none of us will see coming, like a return of Graham Zusi to the midfield.