For those that have been around Benny Feilhaber, it probably did not come as a surprise when Sporting Kansas City announced he would be joining the technical staff. Feilhaber not only played at an extremely high level and was a leader on the field in his career but he was also student of the game. Always watching and learning from fellow players and coaches.
Add to that his readily apparent love for the club, it was, in Feilhaber’s own words, “A no-brainer. I’m very excited that Peter offered it to me. When I retired, I knew that I wanted to be back with this club in some kind of role.”
Sporting KC Manager and Sporting Director Peter Vermes spoke with Feilhaber when he was retiring and this move has been in the works for almost 12 months having been delayed with the pandemic.
“I doubt that many ex-players say this, but I feel like the 15-year career that I had prepared me for this more than anything else,” Feilhaber told media. “I’m very excited about it, and every day that I come in here and speak to the technical staff, I just get more excited for the work that is ahead. It’s almost as if this is more what I was built to do the right way than actually play soccer myself.”
In Feilhaber’s 15-year career he has found success and played in the German Bundesliga, English Premier League and Danish Superliga before returning to the United States and playing in MLS. He also represented the U.S. Men’s National Team 44 times including winning the 2007 Concacaf Gold Cup and playing in the 2010 World Cup.
His greatest club success has without a doubt been with Sporting KC. The talented midfielder tallied 35 goals and 58 assists over 198 appearances while helping SKC to win the 2013 MLS Cup and the 2015 and 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cups
It is no coincidence that Feilhaber’s most successful play came under two coaches he credited as his biggest influences. “The two coaches who had the biggest impact in my career were Peter and Bob Bradley, two guys who are held with really high esteem in U.S. Soccer. I’ve learned a lot from them that I’m going to try and utilize in my post-playing career. Those two have gotten the best out of me, taught me things on and off the field, and they do it in different ways.”
“That’s the beauty of it, right? There are so many different ways to do it and be productive,” Feilhaber continued. “I will take what I’ve learned from them and use it within my personality to try and get the best out of the players I work with.”
“Peter is very good at letting everyone know how the culture is built here and to uphold that culture. It’s very important for what this club is all about,” Feilhaber explained.
Former players want to remain a part of the club after they have retired. Kerry Zavagnin has been an assistant since he retired, Paulo Nagamura started coaching Sporting KC II when he retired. Even Jacob Peterson returned to the club as a color analyst.
“It says that the culture is built in a real way,” Feilhaber explained. “At a lot of places, changes are occurring all the time, whether that’s players who come and go or coaches who come and go. Peter is the longest-tenured coach in MLS for a reason, but you can go through the staff. Kerry Zavagnin and Zoran Savic have been here forever, so you see something being built that is real. It’s not fake, we aren’t saying something and doing something else. Players notice that.”
“Guys want to be a part of it and want to be engrained in it, “he continued. “Paulo Nagamura is the perfect example of what it’s like to be a team player. He’s one of the guys who I consider to be one my best teammates of all time. You see that in him and he’s stuck around. I definitely feel that the culture here is part of my personality. It makes perfect sense to me and to people around me that I would want to be here after my playing career is over.”
“Hopefully I can uphold that and contribute even more positively to that culture.”
Feilhaber was reunited with Bob Bradley when moved to Los Angeles FC for their inaugural season, helping them to a playoff spot in their first season. The following year the veteran midfielder ended up with the Colorado Rapids but his time there was short lived.
SKC was having injury issues in the midfield so Vermes started working a trade to bring Feilhaber back to Kansas City. Feilhaber wanted back to SKC so bad that before all the details could be ironed out or approved by the league, he hopped a flight and showed up to training.
Transitioning to the coaching ranks
One of the hardest things to do successfully is to go from coworker to manager over the same people you worked with previously. In this case there are a number of players that Feilhaber played with before joining into the coaching staff.
“From my perspective, I’m going to try and be myself. I’m not going to try and be somebody else. If you go from a player to a coach, you don’t want people thinking, ‘Wow, this guy changed overnight for some reason. He’s pretending to be somebody that he’s not.’ I’ll always be the same kind of person, but I realize that my roles and responsibilities are different. I think I can bring something fresh in terms of the relationship between the coaching staff and the players,” Feilhaber explained.
Feilhaber has been teammates with a number of the veteran players on SKC, experiencing the high and lows of winning Cups, losing heartbreaking games and long training days. Veterans like Graham Zusi, Roger Espinoza, Ilie Sanchez and Tim Melia have been through the grind with SKC newest coach.
“I’ve had really good relationships with probably half of the players on this team, guys that I’ve played with who are similar in age to me and have gone through things with me on the playing field,” Feilhaber stated. “The other half might be younger guys that I haven’t gotten a chance to play with and don’t know so well. Getting to know them will be a different process in itself. I want to maintain the good relationships that I have with a lot of those players while still being a good professional.”