FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Benny Feilhaber usually finds himself on the receiving end of crunching tackles.
The 27-year-old midfielder currently ranks second in MLS in fouls suffered (59) and trails league-leading Davy Arnaud (65) by only a slim margin despite playing in five fewer games. Feilhaber also ranked second in fouls suffered throughout the entire 2011 season (71) despite appearing in only 23 of the Revolution’s 34 matches.
But Feilhaber has flipped the script in recent weeks, steadily increasing his defensive duties while playing in a deeper-lying midfield role alongside Clyde Simms. While the Brazilian-born, U.S. National Team veteran has made a name for himself as a creative playmaker, he’s now proving just as valuable as a defensive workhorse.
“It’s hard to believe, but I like going into tackles,” Feilhaber said with a smile. “I like being gritty. I like making it tough for the opposing players because I know how hard they make it for us.”
Playing as part of a three-man central midfield triangle with Simms deep and Lee Nguyen operating as the attacking point, Feilhaber has shifted his duties to become the primary link between defense and attack. Instead of occupying space higher up the field and receiving passes in the attacking third – often with his back to goal – Feilhaber has dropped deeper to take the ball off his defenders and initiate the attack through midfield.
While the shifting role carries a different set of responsibilities and tends to pull Feilhaber farther away from goal, he argues the deeper position doesn’t limit his involvement in the attack, but simply changes how he contributes. In fact, Feilhaber admits he’s actually more comfortable approaching the game from a deeper-lying position.
“I think Lee’s a player that’s a little bit better at receiving the ball already in the attacking zone and being able to turn people because he’s got those quick feet and can get away from one player,” he said. “I tend to like dropping in a little bit, getting the ball unmarked and then finding some players up top in good positions, then joining the attack a little bit late.”
In their most recent game against Sporting Kansas City, the Revs returned to a traditional 4-4-2 and deployed a two-man central midfield of Feilhaber and Simms with Nguyen playing wide left. But regardless of the formation and whether he’s positioned higher or deeper, Feilhaber is confident in his abilities and eager to contribute in whichever manner he’s called upon.
“I’m pretty used to playing in both of those styles, both of those positions,” Feilhaber said. “If I play a little bit more defensively, obviously I’ve got to help organizing with Clyde and telling people where to go. If I’m a little bit higher up, I’m more in charge of breaking the attack and completing those passes to the forwards. It’s a little bit more of a state of mind.
“I like getting in there, helping the defense out and making it easier for our offense going forward,” he added. “I have no problem playing that (deeper) position. I like it a lot and right now it might be my best position.”