Expansion drafts always hold the potential to severely shake up the league, as players from teams across the nation are plucked from rosters and sent to a completely different city to play for a completely new team. The MLS is no stranger to that, with Los Angeles FC this season becoming the 14th team in the past 13 years to officially join the league.
The star-studded dreams of living and playing in Los Angeles live in the minds of many a soccer player worldwide. The appeal is how the LA Galaxy is one of the most successful teams in the history of MLS.
With the addition of LAFC to the fold, Sporting Kansas City lost a pair of starters to Tinseltown, seeing attacking midfielder Benny Feilhaber and winger Latif Blessing both departing for the West Coast.
Blessing was chosen as the second selection in the 2017 Expansion Draft after being left unprotected by Sporting KC. While not ideal for the club, it was at the very least expected he would be taken.
The big shock of the offseason was Feilhaber’s trade shortly after the New Year. After spending the past five seasons in Kansas City, which brought him an MLS Winner’s medal and made him a finalist for MVP in 2015, Feilhaber made his way to LAFC on Jan. 3. In exchange, the Kansas City club received $400,000 in allocation money.
The trade offered a chance to bring Blessing back to Kansas City before the season began, with the Ghana native having spent only one season playing under Kansas City coach Peter Vermes. But no deal was reached to bring Blessing back, so Vermes and his squad had to move on.
“We’re sorry to see [Blessing] go and go to LA,” Vermes said on Saturday. “He’s a good kid and fit into the team well, and I’d probably say more of the difficulty is that you spend a lot of time finding players, it’s not an easy thing in this league to do. And then we have an expansion draft and we lose a guy that we put time in to.”
While Blessing’s departure may leave fans and players sad, it’s the departure of Feilhaber that leaves a hole in the team.
“When I came here, he was the big guy, like give him the ball and everything. He was very good, he’s a very good guy, he’s a very good player,” forward Diego Rubio said “Inside the locker room he’s very good with everybody, he’s funny.”
Rubio profited off the creativity of Feilhaber, with the Chilean playing slightly ahead of Feilhaber in the middle of the park.
The transfer was just as much of a surprise to the players as it was to the fans, as their only way of finding out at the time was via social media.
“I think these things are always kind of a surprise, you never see those things coming,” forward Kharlton Belmar said. “I don’t think any of us are really involved in that side of things, we just kind of see the news and life goes on.”
Spending some time in the academy or at USL affiliate Swope Park Rangers, Belmar is one of several players who looked up to Feilhaber as they themselves grew toward playing for the top team. Now, all they can do is send Feilhaber a good luck text and then get back to business.
While the situation may leave a sour taste in the mouths of fans, Vermes, along with many players on the team, acknowledges that these sort of things happen in soccer.
“I just don’t know any roster in any sport that remains the same from year-to-year,” Vermes said. “The other thing is at some point some players are always going to have to leave us, because at some point their legs are going to run out. They’re never going to be here forever.”
Feilhaber and Blessing will first come up against Kansas City on Saturday, Aug. 11, in Los Angeles. The pair will then return to Children’s Mercy Park for the final game of the regular season on Sunday, Oct. 28.