Photo: LAFC & Andrew Quirk
During the late 1980’s, a young Jewish boy could be found on local futsal courts in Rio De Janeiro getting his first kicks of a soccer ball. Those kicks would soon become the catalyst to a storied professional soccer career, taking that young kid around the world.
He would later play his first game of organized soccer for a small suburban New York AYSO team named the Spartans, setting the foundation for the Major League Soccer star and MLS Cup Champion, Benny Feilhaber, to live out his childhood dream.
Due to work, Feilhaber’s father moved the family to the small-town of Scarsdale in Westchester County, New York. As soon as they were in the United States, Feilhaber was enrolled in AYSO at the age of six.
“It was the first time I ever played field soccer because in Brazil I played a lot of futsal,” recalls Feilhaber. “It was a lot of fun, I liked playing on the field a lot better than on a futsal court and it was a good change for me – AYSO is where it all started for me in the US.”
Fast forward to Feilhaber’s senior year of high school in 2003, playing soccer for Northwood High School in Irvine, California, where he was an exceptional midfielder for his team. Even though he was a standout for the Northwood team, Feilhaber was not a top prospect fast-tracked into a secured spot at a college program upon graduation. It was time for him to make his own destiny and so he applied to UCLA and decided he would try and walk on to the UCLA men’s soccer team. He would walk on to the team just like other AYSO alumnus and former US Men’s National team players Jimmy Conrad and Cobi Jones did years before him.
Feilhaber’s path to professional soccer became even clearer in just two years at UCLA as German side Hamburg SV came calling and signed him in 2005 at the age of 20. He placed his collegiate soccer and engineering studies on hold to once again face another big cultural change.
“The first six months I was unhappy a lot of times, you’re trying to accomplish your life dream of becoming a professional soccer player and hopefully being successful and making it last but at the same time it’s a grind – crazy how you’re trying to follow your dream but you’re unhappy for the first six months of your time there.”
Following his first winter break in Germany, Feilhaber began to enjoy his time there and assimilate – learning the language and making friends on the team. Now as he looks back at his time in the northern port city of Germany, he’s glad he made the big move.
His two-year chapter with Hamburg ended in 2007 as he made the move to the Premier League side, Derby County – to face one of his toughest trials yet.
This year was a unique one for Feilhaber, filled with highs and lows. He would earn his first senior team cap with the national team in March 2007 against Ecuador. Then later joined Derby’s 2007-2008 Premier League campaign that ended with only 11 points, becoming the team with the fewest Premier League points in a single season.
Feilhaber, a crafty midfielder with tons left to offer, overcame the blemish of Derby County and made the move to one of Denmark’s oldest clubs, AGF Aarhus where he had a revival that resulted in a three-year stay in the Scandinavian country.
“Denmark was great. The soccer was similar to Germany, a little bit lower level in terms of physicality and technicality of each player, but a similar style that I fit into really well,” says Feilhaber. “I loved Aarhus. I thought it was a great city, made a lot of friends. The team was very welcoming and my three years there were amazing,”
After six eventful years in Europe, it was time for Feilhaber to come back home to the country that gave him his start.
It may have flown under the radar, but his move to Major League Soccer would be the start of a takeover for the weathered traveler – earning milestones of two U.S. Open Cup Championships, an MLS Cup and MLS MVP Finalist.
The U.S. chapter of his life started anew with the New England Revolution, but after just one season he was traded to Sporting Kansas City in 2013 – sparking Feilhaber’s MLS resurgence.
Feilhaber played an influential role of Sporting KC’s success during his four years with the club, becoming the second player in their team history to record double-digit assists in multiple MLS season campaigns and cementing himself as their #10.
“The years that I was there were as good as I could have imagined with us winning multiple titles, having easily the best years of my career there with that team,” says Feilhaber. “Got married, had two kids while I was there – there are a lot of positives.”
Now 33, he has now found his way back to Los Angeles with the help of LAFC, Major League Soccer’s latest expansion team that has taken the league by storm. Fitting right into a club that welcomes diversity with warm hearts and open arms, Benny is a mainstay in the midfield. Now looking back he recognizes the benefits of plying his trade around the world.
“You play in so many different places and you learn so many different cultures, it helps and benefits you with wherever you play and go with how much soccer is the world’s game,” says Feilhaber. “It is something that I think has helped me enjoy that part of the game where there are so many cultures and different people in every team, especially ours [LAFC].
To plainly call Benny “cultured” would be an understatement to his travels. From getting his first minutes of organized soccer with AYSO to becoming a true student of the beautiful game, his advice is backed by awe-inspiring experience.
“Do not put a ceiling on your potential, you have to know that you can get better,” he says. “You have to constantly try and get better every day and your potential just continues to rise.”
We’re proud to have Benny as part of our AYSO family and we look forward to watching him continue to play and live out his dream.