The following story was published in the Revolution’s “Match Day” program for the June 16 game against the Columbus Crew
In a locker room surrounded by veteran leaders, Benny Feilhaber has spent the last year learning a different approach to making an impact.
Sometimes words actually speak louder than actions. That is of course, if they’re the right words.
“I’ve always thought of myself as a leader in the sense of how I play the game,” said Feilhaber, “But not necessarily in talking one-on-one to guys and helping them figure out how to do this or that better.
“I’m definitely a guy that asks a lot from his teammates and asks a lot of myself,” he continued.
Another person who had similar demands for himself and others, Jay Heaps, was hired as head coach in November and saw an opportunity for Feilhaber to step up his game beyond just entries in the stat column.
Heaps talked with Feilhaber and told the midfielder he wanted him to be a better leader and that he’d have figure out a way to do just that. Feilhaber may be his own biggest critic, but this time it was advice from the 35-year-old Heaps that hit home.
“Sometimes it takes somebody else saying something to me to kind of open my mind to it,” he said.
Leadership doesn’t happen overnight. Good leaders recognize the need for change; great leaders realize when to tailor an approach to perfection.
“In the beginning of the season I would go off on someone and that wasn’t the best way to solve a problem. Now I’m kind of bringing a guy in and telling him: ‘This could have been better, what do you think?’”
Improvement has been Heaps’ model from day one, and it’s been a welcomed atmosphere in the locker room and on the field.
“Everybody’s been helping each other in a constructive criticism kind-of way to be better, to ask more of each other …” said Feilhaber. “I think it shows for our team itself, on and off the field, how comfortable we feel with the guys around us.”
After starting the season opener at San Jose, an ankle injury in the second match of the season at Kansas City forced Feilhaber off the field for three games. It would be another two games – until May 2 against Colorado – before he returned to the starting lineup. Last year’s club leader with seven assists, Feilhaber started just two of the team’s first eight games and through the first three months of the season, he had yet to record a goal or an assist.
Feilhaber remained confident that he still had something to prove while working to return to the field. In addition to his modified conversational efforts, he sought to be more tenacious in ball-winning situations. Through the end of May, Feilhaber was leading the league in fouls suffered per game (3.22) and claimed that some of his skills this year are the best they’ve been in his career.
“There are things that I have been doing more of this year that maybe aren’t noticed as much, whether they are stats or noticed by fans. Things that were my weaknesses maybe two, three years ago are things that are starting to come more into my game.”
In his 10 appearances, he’s had to learn how to succeed all over the field, seeing two starts on the left wing, three in the central midfield and three on the right wing.
“We have so many more options this year, so many more kinds of players,” said Feilhaber. “I’ve been pushed around to left, right, sometimes middle. It takes awhile to get used to. That’s where it’s been the toughest part for me this year, and I think I’m finally settling in to play those different roles.”
In the Revs’ last game against Chicago, Feilhaber got back into the scoring line with his first goal and assist of the year.
“If you play well and you do the things the coach asks of you and you incorporate your teammates into the game, eventually the goals and assists will come,” Feilhaber said.
With the goals and assists of course come questions, like when his next call-up to the U.S. National Team will be.
After experiencing the lows of waiting months for a call, finally getting one from new coach Jurgen Klinsmann this January to now not knowing when his next one will be, Feilhaber decided to focus completely on controlling what he can control.
“Hopefully, moving forward I can keep improving week-in, week-out because I’m sure Jurgen’s watching all these MLS games. You always have a chance to catch his eye and I hope that I get an opportunity somewhere down the line.”
Until then, though, Feilhaber remains fixed on helping return the Revs to the postseason and learning how to best lead his teammates.
Becoming a smarter player and a better leader is what will strengthen his reputation on the national and international levels.
Said Feilhaber, “It starts here, in New England.”