Whenever an obviously talented player gets traded from one of the worst teams in the league to one of the best, it's tempting to think one team has totally been fleeced. After all, a bad team has talent exiting, while the good team has talent coming in.
In the case of Benny Feilhaber being sent from the New England Revolution to Sporting Kansas City in exchange for a first-round SuperDraft pick in 2013, a second-round pick in 2015 and some allocation money, it looks even worse as the bad team doesn't actually have any players coming their way. But first reactions can often be misleading and in this case, I actually think this has the potential to be the rare trade that really works out for everyone.
For Sporting KC, they get a player who is only two years removed from being on the United States World Cup team. He'll still only be 28 when the 2013 season begins and probably has 2-3 years of peak performance left in him, if not more. He's also entering a locker room with a winning culture that, at least from the outside, looks very cohesive. There's no question as to who's in charge and Feilhaber will essentially be allowed to fit in, rather than be asked to play any kind of leadership role.
To hear the guys at The Bent Musket tell it, that is exactly where Feilhaber most struggled. Feilhaber was never necessarily known for being the guy that was going to give a pregame speech or whip his teammates into shape. But with the departure of so many of the Revolution's leaders over the years, and Feilhaber's status as "most talented player," many of his teammates and the fans were looking to him to deliver in that area.
Instead, Feilhaber seemed to wilt under those expectations. To follow up a solid MLS debut season in which he had four goals and seven assists in 23 appearances, Feilhaber slumped to just one goal and two assists while losing his starting spot. Whether it was his fault or not, Feilhaber needed to go. With an option on a contract that was due to pay him close to $500,000, it was hardly a surprise that the Revolution chose not to exercise that.
As counter-intuitive as it may seem, declining Feilhaber's option probably improved the Revolution's ability to negotiate a decent deal. Rather than saddling prospective suitors with his existing deal, those teams were free to negotiate new terms. The only danger was that Feilhaber was theoretically free to look abroad for work, but considering teams weren't exactly battering down his door back in 2011 when he signed with MLS, it was highly unlikely teams were about to back wheel-barrows full of money up to his door following his disappointing 2012.
That the Revolution came out of the deal with a couple picks and what I'd expect to be at least $150,000 in Allocation Money is not such a bad haul. Obviously, a lot depends on what the Revs do with those assets, but a decent front office should turn that into at least two good players.
The party that stands to most gain from this trade is probably Sporting KC, though. Amidst an offseason that has seen more names going out than coming in -- with the most notable being Roger Espinoza's expected move to Wigan -- this single move promises to at least keep them moving forward.
The one thing Sporting KC really lacked last year was any kind of attacking acumen from the center of the park. While forwards Kei Kamara and CJ Sapong did a decent enough job of finishing and Graham Zusi did a fine job of creating, most of their damage was either inflicted from the wing or on turnovers.
Although their reputation was one of a high-flying offense, this was a team whose success was almost entirely built on the defense. Only the Vancouver Whitecaps scored fewer goals among playoff teams, a deficiency that was in sharp focus while they were getting dismantled by the Houston Dynamo in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Aside from Zusi and Kamara, no Sporting KC attacking player had more than two assists. That's a rather stunning lack of playmaking, which essentially allowed teams to focus on stopping Zusi and little else.
Feilhaber's presence promises to change that. At his best, he's a dynamic playmaker who is as good of a two-way center mid as this league has. Getting him to play at his best, will obviously be the trick.
Let's remember that we were saying much of the same things about Bobby Convey last year after Sporting KC acquired his rights in not so dissimilar fashion last year. Convey was supposed to help balance the attack as a left-sided forward, but instead ended up battling injury and registered only a single goal and two assists in playing 989 minutes.
Obviously, Convey's disappointing season didn't kneecap Sporting KC as they turned in the second best record during the regular season. The pressure will be higher on Feilhaber to deliver, as he's essentially stepping into Espinoza's role. No one expects Feilhaber to mimic Espinoza's work rate or defense, but they sure expect him to make up for that drop off with considerably better offensive production. This deal probably ends up working well for KC, but these things often work better on paper than they do in reality.