Top 10 Moments of 2017: Ilie signs and Benny climbs

Before the calendar turns to 2018, is counting down the top 10 moments from Sporting Kansas City’s 2017 season. From thrilling wins and heroic performances to individual accolades and new arrivals, let’s revisit the very best of 2017.

#10-9: Homegrowns arrive and Rangers shine

8. Ilie Inks

When Ilie put pen to paper and joined Sporting KC on Jan. 13, few could have imagined just how vital the Spaniard would be in his first MLS season. It wasn’t the grandest of signings, and it certainly wasn’t a move that grabbed headlines across the national soccer landscape. But make no mistake: in a year where several studs joined the league, Ilie was easily among the best newcomers in MLS.

Skilled on the ball, sharp in distribution and tireless defensively, Ilie made the all-important holding midfield position his own. As Peter Vermes’ fulcrum in the center of the pitch, he finished among the league leaders in successful passes and duels won. The indefatigable 27-year-old played every minute in all but one of Sporting KC’s 40 matches in all competitions, resting in one game that came three days after a 120-minute U.S. Open Cup semifinal.

“When we were trying to get him here, I told him that whatever I’m telling you, it will be five times better than what I’m telling you,” Vermes told the Kansas City Star in June. “Well, that goes both ways. (Ilie) is five times better than we could’ve asked for.”

Needless to say, Ilie’s January arrival went a long way in shaping the club for subsequent success. As the league’s top team in possession and passing accuracy, Sporting KC had a bona fide No. 6 who could control tempo, pick out a pass and win the ball in key areas. His debut MLS campaign culminated in Sporting KC Newcomer of the Year honors in October.

"He is an incredible player," Vermes told earlier this year. "That's great that nobody is giving him any buzz, but he is the glue of our group. He's a fantastic player. He reads the game, is an incredible decision maker on the ball. He's a top-level player."

7. Benny Comes Back

From 2007-2010, Benny Feilhaber was a regular contributor for the U.S. Men’s National Team. He earned 38 caps during that time, including appearances in the 2008 Olympics, 2009 Confederations Cup and 2010 FIFA World Cup.

During Jurgen Klinsmann’s regime as head coach, however, Feilhaber’s runouts in a U.S. jersey dried up. But with the late 2016 appointment of Bruce Arena came a window of opportunity. After a three-year absence on the international scene, Feilhaber was named to the MNT roster for January Camp alongside club teammate Graham Zusi.

As surprised as he was to receive a call-up, Feilhaber wouldn’t let his newfound chance go to waste. After making a substitute cameo against Serbia on Jan. 29, Feilhaber started in a friendly against Jamaica on Feb. 3. His excellent performance was punctuated by a game-winning assist to Jordan Morris, sparking a 1-0 victory in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Said FS1 color analyst and U.S. Soccer legend Landon Donovan at the end of the match, ““There are many players that can make average plays, but can you make a special play? Benny made a special play tonight.”

Feilhaber expertly set up the lone goal with not one, but two beautiful lay-offs to Morris on the decisive play, putting an exclamation mark on his return to the national team.