Rainwater has been tailgating into the parking lot all afternoon, and it’s humid enough to daze the most temperate minds, but somehow the clouds that threaten to drench the pitch mercifully peal back. The 90 minute match between Sporting KC and FC Dallas feels like a remarkable compromise between ether and athlete: Kansas City has had three dry days in the entire month, with every waterway in the inland empire bloating to the point of bursting. All the while Benny Feilhaber has been not so quietly putting together his best year as a footballer.
To be clear I’m not going to compare Benny Feilhaber to the weather. This isn’t one of those pieces and I’m not that writer. However, while weather can quickly become explicable and even mundane, Feilhaber appears to be a Tesla coil supplying endless fodder for rampant speculation.
A man of the world, Feilhaber was born in Rio de Janeiro, his Austrian grandfather having emigrated there in the 1930s. After going to high school in Southern California, Feilhaber then attended UCLA—making the team as a walk-on—before starting his professional football career in Hamburg, Germany. He would have stops in Derby County of the English Premier League and Denmark’s top football division before heading to Major League Soccer in the U.S.
Football fan or no, Benny Feilhaber might be one of the most entertaining athletes today. Everything that is likable, affable, and distinctly modern about today’s athletes is buzzing around Feilhaber. As an example, Feilhaber stands alone in the middle of a rare Venn diagram that includes MLS leading assist leaders and midfielders who have had Camaro-quality mullets carved into the side of their heads.
Charity haircuts are becoming more and more ubiquitous, but Feilhaber’s do was so remarkable that one look immediately dredges up the solid mixture of horror and nostalgia that accompanies anyone who once embraced the stonewashed lifestyle. Feilhaber has since got a clean trim but it will be hard for any Sporting KC fan to easily forget his altruistic contribution to mullet nation.
For all the digitarians who scoff at temporarily awful haircuts—hark ye! And woe to all who have doubted the online presence of this thoroughly hilarious and effusive modern athlete. Feilhaber’s aptly named YouTube show, the Benny Feilhaber Show, featured himself and revered sidekick, former Sporting KC teammate Sal Zizzo, exploring the limits of lip-synching, air keyboards, and good-hearted shenanigans. In my favorite episode, episode 2, teammate C.J. Sapong shares his beliefs about conspiracy theories. At first Sapong appears reluctant to divulge the truth but with a smirk Feilhaber disarms his hesitation. Seconds later Sapong is daring the viewer to go to Google and see what happens if and when you type in Illuminati.
Whether or not you believe in the potency of the Illuminati, you have to admire that one of MLS’ greatest rising stars is creating snackable content that is rife with inside jokes and awkward ribbing. Ultimately the Benny Feilhaber Show is fun because it doesn’t take itself seriously, but it’s great for any fan of Sporting KC because it showcases the team’s buoyant chemistry. Over the phone I tried to draw out the forces that have converged and lead to his success on the field.
On his teammates:
“We all trust one another. We all want to play for one another.”
On adopting Coach Peter Vermes’ intense style of play:
“It’s not something that you can do on your own.”
What it means to be a veteran leader on a young team:
“I try to offer as much help as I can throughout the game.”
How his young daughter has impacted his game:
“It gives you that sense of who you are playing for.”
On Kit Kats:
“I can never eat the king size. I can never eat the pack of two. It has to be the four pack.”
At the end of the night Sporting KC rolled FC Dallas 4-0. Feilhaber scored a goal and distributed the ball with great acumen, continuing to cement his reputation and prowess among MLS midfielders. In review of his thoroughly collaborative nature on and off the field, it’s hard not to feel that Feilhaber’s charismatic brilliance is firmly suited to our time. He is a first class facilitator of teamwork in an age where the primacy of the ensemble has become the ethos of every super hero movie. If he keeps it up, a trail of Kit Kats will follow him to the end of his playing days.
Photographer: Ian Morrison for OpusReps.com.
Stylist: Michele Andrews at Mishnar.com.
Groomer: Josh Dalquist.