When the stage was set, the playmaker stepped up and gave a performance to remember.
Benny Feilhaber’s game-winning goal and an assist against rival Real Salt Lake gave Sporting Kansas City a ticket to the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup Final and as a result was voted TheCup.us Player of the Round for the Semifinals.
“The bigger the games that we played, the more that he stepped up in those games. I think that’s now something that’s becoming a part of his makeup, and I think the majority of it is that he’s able to do it consistently,” Sporting manager Peter Vermes said of Feilhaber. “He’s a guy that just always plays in the big moments.”
The award, as voted on by TheCup.us staff and a select panel from the North American Soccer Reporters, is the second for Sporting KC this year and just the third such award since 2006 (Matt Besler was named POTR for the 2012 Final).
Feilhaber received almost all of the first place votes with the Modern Era’s leading scorer Sebastien Le Toux of the Philadelphia Union finishing second and Union goalkeeper John McCarthy also receiving strong consideration.
Kansas City had to dig themselves out of a hole midway through the first half. Trailing 1-0 in the 35th minute, Feilhaber produced a gem of a free kick, knocking the set piece into the penalty area where teammate Soni Mustivar beat Nick Rimando to the ball, and tallied his first-career goal.
“Getting in even at halftime was a really big things for us,” Vermes said. “They would have been able to pack in it, and now it’s about them trying to catch you on the counter attack. But us getting that goal back was huge for us, to start the second half even and go from there.”
Feilhaber was not done, as the midfielder provided what would prove to be the game-winner in the dying moments of the second half. After Sporting had applied relentless pressure to a lagging Salt Lake defense, the breakthrough came as both Feilhaber and Dom Dwyer worked from the buildup in the 80th minute.
Dwyer had done most of the leg work, driving past two Salt Lake defenders, all while getting his heels clipped. Despite him being off balance, Dwyer rocketed a shot from the top of the penalty area around a diving Rimando and off the post. Cue Feilhaber.
The midfielder had been following the play for nearly 80 yards and found space on the right side of the net, near the top of the penalty area as the RSL defense moved with Dwyer to the left. Feilhaber, sprinting the final 10 yards, smashed the rebound just over a sliding Elias Vasquez for the game-winner.
“You know, that’s not an easy finish,” Sporting manager Peter Vermes said of Feilhaber’s goal. “He hits it with a lot of confidence and demand. He was just like ‘Listen, I’m going to stick thing in the back of the net as hard I can.’”
Feilhaber was also involved in the team’s third goal but was not credited with an assist. He played a long ball from KC’s half of the field toward Nemeth but RSL defender Aaron Maund beat him to the ball in the air. Unfortunately for Maund, the ball glanced off his head and got behind him where Nemeth collected it, danced around Rimando and put the game away in the 85th minute.
Feilhaber, now in his third season with Sporting, has been lighting up the scoring column all season. He is sitting on two goals and four assists in the Open Cup this year – good enough to tie for the lead in the latter and tie for fifth in overall points with eight. He trails teammates Dwyer and Krisztian Nemeth in goals and points for the Open Cup (Dwyer: five goals, 11 points; Nemeth: four goals, nine points) while league form has Feilhaber atop the team standings with eight goals and 13 assists – second in the league (Union’s Cristian Maidana, 14 assists).
“I feel good, feel confident, obviously the team’s performing at a high level right now, makes it a lot easier,” Feilhaber said following the match. “But to answer your question, I’ve not felt this good, this confident, this fit, in my whole career.”
The Player of the Round award goes to another Kansas City player, and the third consecutive player which we’ll see in the Open Cup Final. The Round of 16 was a runaway, with Dwyer stealing the show. His four-goal performance beat out the likes of Mike Magee (Chicago Fire) and Joe Willis (Houston Dynamo).
Philadelphia Union’s John McCarthy’s penalty kick heroics split the Sporting players for the Quarterfinal round. Nine saves throughout the 1-1 draw and the decisive goal line save in the penalty kick shootout, eliminated the New York Red Bulls and sealed McCarthy’s honors for the award. Now, McCarthy will take on Sporting Kansas City at PPL Park on Sept. 30 for the 102nd edition of the Open Cup championship game.