Conference call: Benny Feilhaber
How did your move to MLS go down, and did you think you were going to the LA area?
Benny Feilhaber: “Well it all started a conversation that my agent had with MLS. It wasn’t too long ago, to be honest, when the talks really started getting serious and the potential of me coming back to MLS was a real possibility. And that was three days before the transfer deadline. I think, to be honest, on my part I thought it was going to be more for the summer move at first, because I didn’t think that there was really enough time for anything to really happen in three days. It went by really quickly. Negotiations went well. At the end of it all, I think me and the League really wanted this to happen, so we found a good solution.
And with the allocation deal, once I’d signed, it was a three-day, two-or-three-day wait, until Chivas had to make their decision. For me it was really tough. I was anxious – I knew I’d already signed with the League, but where I was going exactly. I knew Chivas had a big decision in front of them, and I knew there was a chance I could end up there – and obviously that’s where I’m from, so I thought that was a big chance – but in the back of my mind, I knew I could really end up anywhere. So, it was a tough.
I was anxious and then came the 11 o’clock – well, 11 o’clock for me, 5 p.m. Eastern – deadline and I still didn’t know. It was pretty nerve wracking for me. Then I found out they’d passed and Philadelphia had passed and it came to New England. To be honest, I went to bad last night not knowing 100 percent. I had a feeling it would be New England, but I didn’t know. And when I woke up this morning, I had a text from my agent, Lyle (Yorks), telling me it was New England. So I was really satisfied with how everything went. It was pretty nerve-wracking. I hope I don’t have to go through something that crazy again. But, in the end, it’s what I wanted and I’m really happy to come to New England now.”
Stevie, you didn’t think he was going to be available to you?
Steve Nicol: “Absolutely. We figured if he wasn’t going to Chivas, he was going to Philly. So, when they didn’t, it was pretty straight forward for us … particularly the last year we’ve lacked experience and we obviously have wanted to do better with the ball, so it was pretty straight forward for us. Benny’s got experience and he’s good with the ball. It was pretty straight-forward from where I’m sitting.”
Benny, you had some options. Your contract was coming toward its end at the end of the year. What made you make the move to MLS now?
Benny Feilhaber: “I just think the timing was right. I’ve had a good time in Europe for six years. My experience has been an important one. I think I’ve improved my football [from when] I first came. I was young, but Europe teaches you things that are tough to learn when you’re playing close to home. It’s really all about football here, and that’s really the only really reason I’m in Europe. There’s really nothing else. I think you really learn a lot of things. Now I’m ready to bring that back to MLS.
I know MLS has been growing as a league for 10 to 15 years now. It’s at a point where it’s very competitive style of football. And I think I’m ready to come back and I think the league will do something for me that Europe hasn’t been able to. Leaving Aarhus, I’ve been able to become more of a player that plays every week, and I hope to continue that in MLS. And at the same time, I hope to be able to improve MLS with my experience that I got in Europe. I think the timing of it all and how it all went down in the last three days was really just the right move. It just felt right.”
Michael, can you explain how things went down from the minute you realized Benny was going to be on the table?
Mike Burns: “It was a strange night to say the least, I think first and foremost for Benny, since he was the one who wasn’t sure where he was going. Kind of saying the same thing Stevie (Nicol) said, there’s no way that at (number) three, he was going to be available. And the five o’clock deadline came and went and we didn’t get anything and all of a sudden I got a call from the League saying both Chivas and Philly had passed. So we were quite surprised to say the least. And in talking to Stevie – as he said, but not to reiterate too much – we felt like it was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up, to acquire Benny in the Allocation Process. It doesn’t happen that often, so we selected him.”
Benny, could you talk a bit about the fact that you’d be a free agent in the summer. I know you said you felt the timing was right.
Benny Feilhaber: “Europe has been something I’ve felt has been important to me for a long time. To be honest, after the World Cup, I thought there was an opportunity to potentially move from Aarhus, even in the winter transfer window four or five months ago, and it didn’t happen. At a certain point, I decided that it wasn’t necessarily a bad decision to let it go all the way to the summer. But at the same time, I didn’t know if I was going to get an opportunity like this that came up right now. Had this opportunity come up two months from now, then maybe I could have waited and checked out all the options. But at this point, I thought it was such a good opportunity that I really couldn’t see it pass by. Like I said, it was just the timing of it all and the way it came through that it was just really enticing for me and at the end of it all, I’m really satisfied with it all and my decision.”
As a player regarded as having great touch and great comfort on the ball, did you have any reservations about having to play on turf a lot, but also Vancouver and a couple of other teams play on turf? They don’t play on grass.
Benny Feilhaber: “Turf is always a little bit more difficult to play on, at least for me. But at the same time, it’s not something that’s going to take away from my game. That didn’t become a factor in my decision-making, or anything like that. There are plenty of leagues – and not just MLS – but there are plenty of leagues in Europe that play with turf. That never crossed my head as a potential negative.”
Steve, how soon do you think you’ll get Benny into the team?
Steve Nicol: “Things have happened so quickly that Benny and I haven’t really had too much chance to talk. Obviously when you get a player of his quality, we wouldn’t waste any time not playing him. So, as soon as we can, he’s on the field.”
Stevie, you’ve been playing a lot with a five-man midfield. Do you think you’ll play that now, dropping Benny into the spot that Shalrie (Joseph) was?
Steve Nicol: “Well, we haven’t tried to play with five in the midfield. We’ve tried to go forward. It hasn’t just worked out. Easily Benny gives us options. We can play with three, we can go with two. The good thing for us is we have options. Once he gets in and gets settled in with us, we’ll decide what’s ultimately best for us, and him, as well.”
Mike, the club has gone after international talent in recent transfers. But how big is it to have an American player with competitive international experience join the team?
Michael Burns: “I’ll say this. The best way to answer this is this: this is my seventh season working in the front office here with the Revs, and this is the first opportunity we’ve had to acquire a player like this. So, in terms of an American player coming back and having the mechanism of the Allocation Process to acquire him, it’s rare.”
Benny, you had a chance to train and see Gillette Stadium a few years ago with the Gold Cup. Did you like what you saw out of the New England atmosphere?
Benny Feilhaber: “It was great. I’ve been here – was it just those two games? I think I played another game here at some point in New England with the National Team – and the stadium is amazing. It’s an enormous stadium and I think it’s a good atmosphere. I’ve lived on the East Coast before when I was younger and they have great fans. Everyone loves football on the East Coast, so I’m excited about getting to meet the fans and really feeling the environment. But it was great when I was last there.”
Benny, what recent Revolution games have you watched and what was your take?
Benny Feilhaber: “Well I haven’t watched any games this season. It’s so tough to watch games – usually the games are at three in the morning for me. So I’ve definitely seen highlights. I’ve seen highlights of not only of New England’s games, but a lot of games in MLS, this season. I grew more interested in coming back to the league so I’ve grown more interested in seeing the football being played in the league. I’ve seen New England’s last few games’ highlights and I saw the Houston highlights and I think it was a bit unlucky there at the end to give up a goal. But I think the team is stronger so far than the points that we’ve got. But to be honest I’m excited to come in and meet the guys and be part of the whole team and trying to help the team. I think we’ve got a good group of guys and I see me fitting in well with the style of play.”
Given what you’ve seen, how do you see your particular skill set fitting in with the team?
Benny Feilhaber: “It’s similar to what coach Steve Nicol said – I don’t exactly know what to call him yet since we haven’t been formally introduced. I feel I’m a good passer of the ball, I’m pretty calm on the ball and I can spring the team into the attack. That’s definitely what I’m going to try to bring to the team.”
Mike, did Houston try to trade and if so, what were they offering?
Michael Burns: “I don’t think it makes any sense to get into details. All I’ll say is that yes, there were some teams that contacted us about Benny. In terms of what teams and what teams offered, I’m not comfortable getting into those details.”
Benny, do you think your move to MLS will inspire other National pool players to come to America or come back to America?
Benny Feilhaber: “I think so. Like I said, MLS has been growing for a while now. I think the talent in MLS is much higher than it was 10 years ago. It’s nothing out of the ordinary to have a National Team player, or any quality player that’s playing in Europe, to want to come back to MLS. And that doesn’t just go for American players, but foreigners, as well. Hopefully other National Team players have the opportunity that I got and can also come back. The more quality I think we can get back in the league, the better it will be.”