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The Pros and Cons of the Benny Feilhaber Trade

Let’s take a deep breathe and not freak out about this.

MLS: U.S. Open Cup Final-New York Red Bulls at Sporting KC Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Now that you’ve had a few hours to process the fact that Benny Feilhaber has played his final game for Sporting Kansas City, we try to calm ourselves and look at this trade in a logical way. There are definitely pros to the trade, but let’s start with the emotional stuff, the cons.

Why This Trade is Terrible

BEEEENNNNNNNYYYYYYY?!?!?!??! The emotional reaction is easy to have. Benny Feilhaber was a fan favorite and part of the 2013 MLS Cup victory as well as US Open Cup victories in 2015 and 2017. On top of that he’s arguably the biggest star on Sporting KC, despite more frequent United States National Team players Matt Besler and Graham Zusi playing alongside Benny.

Also, the stats really favor that Benny was fantastic. As our own Mike Kuhn quickly put it on Twitter last night, he is 8th on the team (all-time) in league goals (7th across all competitions), 4th in assists (3rd across all comps) and 13th in league minutes and starts.

And as my five-year-old daughter just said to me as I sat here writing this, “I love Benny.” He’s definitely her favorite player (and she’s too young for it to be about his looks — though the same can’t be said for my wife).

The fan reaction last night was visceral as well. Most of the immediate reaction of social media was around how the world was ending, Sporting are selling everyone and they’ve gotten no one in return. While that’s clearly an overreaction, the more casual fans due tend to be drawn in by stars. Winning fixes everything though, so the replacements are key.

A Real Potential Problem with this Trade

Which brings me to the next “con.” As of right now, it appears recent Designated Player signing Yohan Croizet is going to be looked at to be Benny’s replacement immediately. When the Croizet signing was first announced it was believed he’d probably split time with Benny. Now it seems much more likely that he’ll be called on to be the man right away.

The only other player on the roster who really plays attacking midfielder is Jimmy Medranda but for my money he is more of a box-to-box midfielder or even potentially a left back. His offensive skills leave something to be desired as just three goals and three assists over 4 12 seasons with Sporting KC.

There is always the possibility another signing could be in the works but one would assume you don’t sign two DP attacking midfielders. It seems more likely any other signing would be more for depth than for a player looking to start. There are no MLS free agents that look capable of being emergency depth but I’d still be for someone like Vicente Sanchez, who had two goals and five assists in league play for Houston last year, despite being 38. The real shame of the depth situation is the way Kevin Oliveira was unceremoniously terminated in the offseason.

Now for Some Positive Thinking

Benny was set to be 33-years-old by the start of the 2018 MLS season. He was entering the final year of his contract and likely would have left for nothing after the end of the 2018 season.

Not to mention his numbers were declining. After a near MVP season in 2015 where he had 10 goals and 15 assists in league play, he had seven goals and 13 assists in 2016 and just five goals and three assists in 2017.

Getting $400K in allocation money for a player likely to leave on a free transfer isn’t bad business. Let’s not forget, Kevin Molino was traded for $650K in allocation money last year in a near (at the time) record deal. He was 26-years old and plays the same position.

Sacha Kljesten was just traded today for Carlos Rivas and Tommy Redding, two very unproven players. The Red Bulls also added in $150,000 in allocation money to make that deal work. For comparison, Kljesten had 17 assists last year (and 20 and 14 the prior two seasons). That makes the money received for Benny look that much better. While Feilhaber may have a great season or two left in him (especially with Carlos Vela taking his passes), it seems his best years are likely behind him (though we wish him all the best in games not against SKC).

While getting $400K for someone not likely to be around past 2018 is good business, the immediately money saved (and freed up for other signings) could be even bigger. Benny made $600K in 2017 and likely was due a small bump in 2018 (Espinoza’s contract keeps climbing by $50K a year). On top of that, Benny wasn’t a DP, but made over the max salary charge ($480,625 in 2017, 2018’s numbers aren’t out yet). The team would have had to use General Allocation Money to keep buying his salary down, so that’s at least another 120K (but likely 170K or more) saved for being spent elsewhere. That’s north of a million in savings that can be spent on another player.

Some pointed out that SKC were offered $500K in a transfer deal from Hapoel Be’er Sheva of the Israeli Premier League in 2016 and $400K is less. But, MLS gets a third of transfer fees outside the league versus SKC keeping it all in the league. So not only did they get more, they got another year plus out of Benny. This is like the Dwyer trade in that trading in the league is a huge plus in the amount of funds the team keeps.

Overall I think the trade is good business from Peter Vermes. The real key will be how SKC spends this money, the Dwyer money and all the new TAM the league injected for the 2018 season. Sporting have said they could sign up to three new DPs. With all this extra money, they could do that and add several TAM level players as well. The thing with Vermes is he’s shown in the past he won’t spend just to spend. If there were ever a year to take chances it might be 2018 with a rapidly aging core of players who might be down to one last chance at silverware.

The only thing that would have made this trade better for me was getting Latif Blessing back from LAFC too.