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Chivas USA passes up chance to sign midfielder Benny Feilhaber

Chivas is winless and struggling to score, but Coach Robin Fraser says club needs more help up front, and its money would be better spent there than in midfield. Feilhaber goes to New England instead.

April 22, 2011|By Grahame L. Jones
  • Benny Feilhaber celebrates a U.S. goal during the 2009 Confederations Cup in Bloemfontein, South Africa.
Benny Feilhaber celebrates a U.S. goal during the 2009 Confederations… (Robert Ghement / EPA )

Chivas USA plays the San Jose Earthquakes in Santa Clara on Saturday afternoon still seeking its first victory of the season and still trying to figure out a way to conjure up some goals.

So why did the team this week pass up the opportunity to acquire playmaking midfielder Benny Feilhaber, a member of the 2010 U.S. World Cup team?

"It was three or four days of agony, to be quite honest, because he's a very talented player," Chivas Coach Robin Fraser said. "He's a player I've admired a great deal since I saw him play in the Under-20 World Cup" in the Netherlands in 2005.

"He's a very, very good player, no question. But it just came down to salary cap. We felt like if we got Benny it would really tie our hands in terms of doing anything else."

After the Philadelphia Union, which was next in line in Major League Soccer's allocation process, also skipped the chance to land the Brazilian-born former UCLA player, the New England Revolution showed no hesitation at all.

"We felt it was an opportunity we couldn't pass up," former U.S. international Mike Burns, now New England's vice president of player personnel, told the Boston Globe.

Feilhaber, 26, who reportedly signed a $375,000 contract with MLS, could make his debut Saturday against Sporting Kansas City. He left UCLA after two years and has spent the last six years playing in Germany, England and, most recently, Denmark.

Fraser said he believed the Chivas USA midfield has enough talent and potential to do the job and that it is up front where the team needs help. Among the players mentioned as possible summer acquisitions are two of Feilhaber's World Cup teammates, forwards Eddie Johnson and Herculez Gomez.

Johnson is with Fulham in England and Gomez is with Pachuca in Mexico, but they are not the only names on Fraser's shopping list.

"There are a lot of players that we're looking at," he said. "The goal really is to have a few options come summertime."

For the time being, though, the team will keep trying to put the pieces together and find a way to win.

"I think we're definitely going up," Fraser said. "We've been improving. I think the mind-set of the team is very good. I think we're aggressive. We're really making it difficult for teams to play against us, for the most part.

"But then I think we make a few too many mistakes and give away very dangerous opportunities. I don't feel like we're being outplayed at all. I feel like we're possessing well. We're moving up the field well. We're struggling to translate that in the final third.

"The other part of that is just defensively to not make the individual mistakes we've been making, which are providing chances against us.

"But I think we clean up a bit in the defensive end and add a little bit of grit and determination in the attacking end and we get some results."

The schedule for May is not exactly kind. Chivas has road games against the best team in MLS at the moment, Real Salt Lake; against the resurgent New York Red Bulls, and against the always tough Columbus Crew. The lone home game in May is against the Galaxy.

"It's baptism by fire, for sure," Fraser said.

But first there is April to get through, starting Saturday and then next weekend in Carson, when New England will be in town and Chivas will have the chance to see Feilhaber up close and gauge what might have been.

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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