Who got it right in the Benny Feilhaber sweepstakes? Probably everyone

Benny Feilhaber ... seen last summer against Ghana.

This Benny Feilhaber flash fire was the big news of Major League Soccer’s week. (Unless you count the Red Bull uprising, cemented when Hans Backe’s boys made fish food out of D.C. United on Thursday night, as “news.”)

Chivas USA was first up in the allocation order, so the Goats had first dibs on Feilhaber, the U.S. international who came off the bench to play in three of four matches at last summer’s World Cup in South Africa. Coach Robin Fraser and the Goats stunned some fans and media by taking a pass on the talented midfielder. (Some writers even suggested that Chivas USA was being coy last weekend by not immediately snapping up Feilhaber’s rights, instead pressing the matter right up to Tuesday’s deadline. They might want to pay more attention next time.)

Philadelphia was next in the order, but also passed on Feilhaber, who will count $400,000 toward a team’s salary cap, according to one league source who tipped the cap number to me.

Next up came New England, who did take on the California native.

So, is it possible that everyone made the right call. I’d say “yepper.”  Although there might be one body in all this that wasn’t at its best. Read on for more.

Feilhaber was never a slam dunk for Chivas USA. As I wrote last week at SI.com, Chivas actually has a little midfield depth, with some good, young talent already on patrol and its best man still yet to play in the injured Paulo Nagamura. Chivas needs strikers. So the weekend was probably spent trying to arrange a trade; Chivas would take Feilhaber and then immediately move him.

There weren’t any takers, and that had a lot to do with the inflated $400K cap figure. That’s also the reason Philadelphia Union boss Peter Nowak said, in effect, “Nah, we don’t need him here, either.”

Nowak nailed it. Feilhaber is a good player. But is he a 400K game-changer?  

Here’s what he told CSNPhilly.com in this report: “You think Benny Feilhaber is a big name? Really?  I have nothing against Benny, we go way back. My point is, if I look at the big players and their salaries go against the cap, you have to ask yourself if it’s worth it?”

And the answer is “No.”  That’s a cap figure that would put him alongside players like Javier Morales, David Ferreira, Shalrie Joseph and others. And I just don’t think Feilhaber is that guy.

I don’t care that he has 38 U.S. appearances. I can name a dozen MLS midfielders who are every bit as good as Feilhaber who don’t make half that amount. Heck, two of them played last night: D.C. United’s Dax McCarty and the New York Red Bull’s Joel Lindpere. (The excellent Red Bulls holding midfielder Teemu Tainio probably doesn’t make over $200,000, either; this year’s salary figures aren’t out yet.)

So, why is he making $400K? That’s where I’d say someone didn’t have his best day. That someone is at the league; it was MLS headquarters who signed Feilhaber at that number.  They were fishing the man out of the Danish second division, after all.  That ain’t Serie A or the Bundesliga. It’s not even the 2. Bundesliga!  Feilhaber didn’t appear to have many great options, so MLS really tossed him a lifeline with that figure.

Chivas and Philadelphia stand a good chance of having another good player pop up the allocation process; they retain their spots at Nos. 1 and 2 after passing on Feilhaber.

New England, on the other hand, at No. 3, might not get a shot at anyone. The allocation order is reshuffled at the end of the year, so this was probably going to be the Revs’ only chance for 2011 at such a player. That’s why I’d say Feilhaber, even at an elevated salary figure, makes sense New England. . (They could still trade him, but coach Steve Nicol needs passing and possession, and Feilhaber fits the bill.)

It’s the same as talented college player in the MLS draft who comes attached to some big flaw. Perhaps he doesn’t make early in the selection process. But as he falls in the selections, it makes more sense for some club to go ahead and take him. The risk factor declines as he moves down the line.

So, Chivas USA wins. Philly wins. And the Revs see a useful asset fall into their lap.

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