Benny’s Big Bounce

The Revolution have offered an entertaining, if ulcer producing, last few games. Last minute goals secured last-second ties where losses seemed imminent.  It was entertaining and both encouraging (we did come back!) and frustrating (but we could have, should have, won!) stuff.

As we look back, amid the discussion of tactical adjustments, substitutions, defensive lapses, last minute heroics and (clearly) offside goals, one element that you hear much less about is attitude. Rather, you’ll hear a good deal about the “fight back” spirit that is within the team, but much less about the attitude that has been removed. And right now, both are noteworthy.

The fighting spirit is not to be dismissed, certainly, and it was sorely lacking in many of last-year’s games, where it became clear that the coach and players had lost the plot. I sense, as would many Revolution fans I guess, that these two last-second ties would have been defeats last year.

And that alone is something to celebrate.

I don’t know if the main reason for this positive change is Coach Jay Heaps and his staff, but he/they certainly must be a key element. If there were questions about the new Coach’s tactical acumen or experience (there were), there never was any doubt about his drive or energy. It seems we are seeing the affects of that now.

There’s another attitude adjustment that simply cannot go ignored. And that is the turnaround in play and approach from Benny Feilhaber. In fact, The Bent Musket just named Benny Feilhaber player of the month for June.

And in yet further proof that while my procrastination with this blog has helped my tan this summer, it’s done little to help my big-breaking-idea production, Steve Stoehr noted in the previously mentioned piece in The Bent Musket, that in 2011 Benny was seemingly “ hot tempered and out of sorts” and that recently he’s, instead, been “keeping his cool” this year.  This is something I’ve also noted, and been waiting to discuss for some time – but then decided to float around Barnegat Bay on vacation, instead.

While this notion of an attitude change is noted in The Bent Musket’s article, it isn’t a focus. Instead, the role change from wide midfielder, to more of a central attacking midfielder is the focus.

I don’t disagree with the significance of that change. Getting Benny to feel more a part of the game, more central and getting more touches is a good thing, and part of his continued upswing in form.

But the attitude change has been something that I’ve been marveling at. Forgetting for a moment the cause, Benny seemed equally ready to yell at refs, gesticulate and teammates that let him down or otherwise sulk on the field.

And this is an assessment from a Feilhaber fan. I was ecstatic when Benny came to the team, and excited about the possibilities such a skillful player might bring. But the attitude seemed not to match the skills, and that was saddening (and maddening.)

But, luckily, that was 2011.

In 2012, we’ve seen a very different Benny Feilhaber.

Does he he ever yell at a ref? Sure. But, it’s not with the unnecessary histrionics that we saw in 2011.

More importantly, we haven’t seen the glaring disappointment cast toward teammates when passes didn’t go to their intended location, or went unreturned after a run. We’ve also seen a significantly increased defensive work-rate.

The Bent Musket having appointed him the Player of the Month is a sign that others too are seeing this change. And all Revolution fans are certainly happy about it.

But it brings up an interesting question… why the change? I certainly don’t have any definitive answers for this, but here’s a few thoughts to keep in mind.

The 2011 Revolution Reality Check – Benny’s career has taken a pretty bumpy path to the Revolution, and he landed into MLS, without knowing what team he’d be on. “Lucky” him, it was a terrible Revolution team, one that would finish the season with only five wins, miss the playoffs, replace its coach and generally not play great soccer. That’s a tough landing for a player that undoubtedly thinks/knows he can play at a high level. Getting accustomed to that new reality is certainly going to affect one’s mental approach.

The 2012 Reboot – The Revolution have changed quite a bit in 2012, and this change has helped a number of areas, including Benny’s focus and attitude. Since so much has changed, that makes it increasingly difficult to pinpoint what new puzzle pieces might be making the most significant impact here, but having more skillful players around him, having a refreshed/refocused coaching staff guiding the team and having the goal of a style which will see him (and he whole midfield) much more involved than previously, all seem like obvious improvements.

Fireside Chats – Now, I don’t have a clue what, if any, conversations (one on one, or otherwise) Jürgen Klinsmann might have had with Benny. (And given some of Klinsman’s proclivities, maybe there haven’t been any?) But, might he have laid out a few “to be worked on” areas for Benny to get back to the US National Team lineup? Or, might Jay Heaps sat his star midfielder down and told him he needs to up his game – and bring the attitude in-line with his skills? As I offered, I couldn’t tell you – maybe both or neither of these fictional chats happened, but it’s not out of the question either.

The Waiting Game – What Revolution fans don’t know much about (unless I’ve missed something) and certainly must hope to NOT be a factor, would be Benny’s contract status and his real desire to be a New England Revolution player long term. LET ME BE CLEAR that I’ve never seen or heard anything that suggests Benny is looking to depart New England, but one imagines he has bigger goals in mind. Perhaps then, it wasn’t a coach that had a fireside chat with Benny, but his agent?

A Maturation Process – Perhaps, despite all my plausible explanations, Benny’s change of temperament is simply the maturation of an extremely skillful player whose frustration at not achieving his goals in the manner he expected to was coming to the surface. It might be as simple as a new understanding that to reach his full potential, there’s a time to get down to business and let the play on the field do all the talking.

Frankly, we’ll probably never know what has led to the attitude turnaround – and stellar play – from Mr. Feilhaber, and if you are a Revolution (or US Men’s National Team) fan, you probably don’t truly care, as long as it continues.

Either way, congrats to Benny and congrats to the Revs for giving a platform for him to make this adjustment.

As Revolution fans, we can only hope that MLS, Mr. Heaps and Mr. Klinsmann can conspire to keep him happy, productive and local, for some time to come.

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