Real Salt Lake City and Sporting Kansas City, two of the most consistent teams in the Major League Soccer (MLS), will meet in the MLS Cup final. Both teams boast one title each in the North American professional soccer league and have often reached the play-offs over the years. Kansas City, then still named Wizards, won the championship against Chicago Fire in Washington in 2000. The current Sporting coach, Peter Vermes, was on the team that emerged victorious 1-0 in the final 13 years ago. Salt Lake won the title in Seattle in 2009, after beating Los Angeles Galaxy on penalties. The 18th MLS final for the title on December 7 will determine the successor to LA Galaxy, champions in 2011 and 2012. The final will take place in Kansas City, so Sporting have home advantage.
Benny Feilhaber is one of the pillars of the Sporting team that qualified for the final with a goalless draw in the first leg of the Eastern Conference final against Houston Dynamo, and a 2-1 win in the second. After defeating Portland Timbers 4-2 at home, Real Salt Lake also won the away leg of the Western Conference final 1-0.
Feilhaber, 28, played with Hamburger SV in the German Bundesliga, with Derby County in the English Premier League, and with Aarhus GF in Denmark. The midfielder has been helping shape football in the MLS since 2010, starting with New England Revolution. In December 2012, the US American, born in Rio de Janeiro where he grew up until he was seven, then moved to Kansas in the Midwest. Together with Oriel (“Uri”) Rosell, a 21-year-old Spaniard from the FC Barcelona school, Feilhaber handles Sporting’s midfield game.
“I think I’m an experienced player who can read a match quite well”, said Feilhaber at a press conference in Kansas. “Uri and I try to determine the rhythm of the team and find the moments when we need to put pressure on opponents or slow down the match”.
Coach Vermes praised Feilhaber, who played nine Bundesliga matches with Hamburger SV in the 2006-07 season and 49 games with their second team between 2005 and 2007. Vermes said that Benny was a player who had visibly improved during the second half of the year, kept a high level of fitness and was capable of “deadly passes”.
“We are facing a major task”, said Feilhaber about Kansas’s first participation in the final since 2007. The former Premier League professional, who played 10 matches with then newly promoted Derby in the 2007-08 season, has previously enjoyed the limelight of US football. In 2007, Feilhaber helped the US national team win the Gold Cup. The HSV player scored the winner for the 2-1 victory over Mexico in the final, the fourth title for the USA at the Continental Championship of the CONCACAF Association.
As Feilhaber’s grandfather came from Austria, he was asked in 2005 by Andreas Herzog, the then assistant coach of the Austrian national team, whether he would take Austrian nationality. Feilhaber, who had attracted attention with strong performances with the US team at the U20 World Cup, was undecided. At that time he had signed a three-year contract with Hamburger SV. But in the end Feilhaber decided to continue playing for the US Soccer Association.
Real Salt Lake finished the regular season in fourth place, behind New York, Kansas and Portland. But the team from Utah managed to find a winning streak to reach the MLS final. Salt Lake have enjoyed four victories over the Portland Timbers this year. Real coach Jason Kreis led the team to the MLS title four years ago.
The two finalists have played each other once this year, in front of a sell-out crowd of 20,000 at Rio Tinto Stadium at Sandy, Utah, on July 20. Sporting won the hot battle 2-1, thanks to a goal from Ike Opara in the 97th minute. The referee showed six yellow cards and sent Real player Wingert off after two of them during a tough match.
Prior to the final there were several developments, hinting at the increasing attractiveness of the MLS. David Beckham once again underlined his interest in founding a new MLS team in Miami. In addition, the owners of the clubs Sacramento Republic and Orlando City Soccer asserted that they would like to move from the lower USL to the MLS. In New York interested circles maintain their hope to establish an FC New York side to rival the Red Bulls. MLS boss Don Garber said the aim was to extend the currently 19-team MLS to 24 by 2020.