Winning is always fun! Being right sure is fun, too! When you get to watch your team win while also proving you right, well, that's pretty much a Yahtzee right there. Sporting KC Yahtzeed all over Toronto FC yesterday, by a final score of 3-1.
I didn't expect anything better than a draw out of Sporting KC's trip to Toronto. Aside from Toronto having the advantage of playing at home, TFC also had the advantage of having all of its players more or less available. Sporting had to travel with a lineup eviscerated by injuries and suspensions, which is not the recipe for winning soccer games.
I saw a lot of build up to this match promoting it as the clash between the obvious MVP of MLS this season, Toronto's Sebastian Giovinco, and the dark horse challenger in the MVP race, our own Benny Feilhaber. Smarter analysts than I have argued that Benny is the player who actually deserves the award this year, but most commentators can't get past Giovinco's gaudy offensive numbers.
Yesterday should go a long way to winning Benny the Most Valuable Player award this season. Sure, Benny outperformed Giovinco in the basic statistics, with a goal and an assist to Giovinco's lone assist, but the case goes much deeper than those top-line numbers.
At the top of this post, I pasted in a picture of Benny's match as depicted by the fine folks from Opta. There's a lot going on there, because I asked the system to show me everything Benny did, be that a shot, a pass, defensive work, or ball possession. As you can see, Benny had a busy day. Especially with Espinoza absent due to both injury and suspension, Benny covered plenty of ground in both the attack and the defense. He won tackles and distributed the ball and did pretty much everything Sporting needed other than don goalkeeper's gloves.
You know who didn't have a busy day? Sebastian Giovinco. Here's his Opta results for the same measures:
That looks quite a bit different, doesn't it? Sporting's defense payed a lot of attention to Giovinco, and rightly so, with the result of limiting his touches and opportunities. Having been mostly marked out of the match, Giovinco didn't contribute much beyond his ever-dangerous set pieces (although to be fair, that's a rather large contribution).
If yesterday's match was a contest between MVP candidates, there was a pretty clear winner.
The match wasn't really about the eventual MVP voting, of course. It was about which team got three points. Benny certainly made his typical large contribution to earning those three points, but he didn't do it alone. Kevin Ellis put in his best shift ever, earning the penalty that gave Benny his goal and shutting down Giovinco all match long. Jimmy Medranda made a shocking start at left back and turned in a fantastic performance. Heck, Jacob Peterson started in place of the suspended Dom Dwyer and scored the goal that iced the match.
I like the comparison of Benny's Opta stats to Giovinco's because it encapsulates the match so well. Going into the weekend, Toronto had the big-name stars with high salaries and gaudy stats, while Sporting had the hard working team. The hard working team won. Even our MVP candidate plays defense. Turns out the Kansas City soccer formula worked better, at least for a single match.
I honestly don't expect Benny to win the MVP award this year. I hope he does, because he deserves it. He's been the best player in MLS this year in ways both obvious and subtle. In the end, though, the award will probably go to the international player with the big paycheck and the impressive goal totals. Those are the things that tend to win post season league-wide awards.
The thing is, I don't think Benny cares if he wins the MVP award or not. What has made Benny so great for the team this year is that he isn't playing for individual glory. He just wants to win, and he's willing to do the non-glitzy work Kansas City needs him to do to get those victories. That's what makes him the Most Valuable Benny.