[USA SPOTLIGHT] There it was in the U.S. Soccer pregame notes setting up a friendly Wednesday (8:30 p.m. ET, Galavision, espn3.com) against Panama in Panama City: "Brek Shea, a member of the 2011 MLS Best XI, is now the only player to appear in all eight matches since [Jurgen] Klinsmann became head coach."
When thus informed, said Shea by telephone from the team’s hotel, “I didn’t know that had happened. It’s actually kind of cool.
“Obviously that gives me confidence that he chose me and keeps playing me. A big part of soccer is confidence and he definitely has encouraged me to play a very attacking style. He’s been very helpful to me; he’s been very helpful to everyone, actually.”
Shea had played twice for the U.S. during the tenure of Klinsmann’s predecessor, Bob Bradley, who gave him a debut in October of 2010 against Colombia. Suffice to say, he didn’t do much dazzling during the first half of a 0-0 tie at PPL Park near Philadelphia. Clint Dempsey replaced him at halftime.
“I was a bit nervous in that game and obviously didn’t play my best,” he recalls. “It wasn’t my best performance, but I think it comes with anything: the more you do it, the better you get, and the more comfortable you get.”
In the 15 months since that debut, he’s helped FC Dallas reach its first MLS Cup – which it lost to Colorado, 2-1, on an overtime own-goal – and topped FCD with 11 goals during the 2011 season, after which he trained for a month with Arsenal at the behest of Coach Arsene Wenger.
“He’s been pushing and wanting us to train in Europe in the offseason and it is good to get that experience,” said Shea of Klinsmann’s recommendation players extend their activity periods beyond the MLS season. “It's just strictly training and to get that experience and hopefully raise my game to another level. I think, obviously I am happy where I am, but I want to, eventually when the time is right, try it out and give it a shot.”
The Gunners would like to put in a transfer bid someday, yet they’ll have some competition. Though he’s yet to earn a competitive cap or score a goal in his 10 USA appearances, the 21-year-old midfielder who has also played up top and in the back for FCD has highly prized tools: he’s tall (6-foot-3), strong and fast, is left-footed but not single-sided, and can tiptoe through traffic or dig into a tackle.
At Arsenal, he spent a lot of training time with the first team, not on an auxiliary field with the reserve squad or eager teenagers. There wasn’t much individual instruction; it wasn’t needed. When working with and against top-class players refining their craft, one learns by absorbing while trying to keep up.
“I definitely enjoyed training with them,” he said. “Everyone on the staff and the players were really nice and accepting of me. It taught me a lot. At that level, the expectations are so much higher, but at the same time you’re playing with players that are at the greatest level.
“They help you become a better player because they’re playing faster than we do over here and they know where to be when you’re in trouble, so they give you an option. It definitely helps you to learn that and play better.”
Under Klinsmann his education has also been accelerated beyond the training sessions. “He spends a lot of time talking about what we do off the field,” says Shea. “The first week we were in camp we didn’t touch a ball. We did a lot of weights, we did a lot of stretching. He talked about how to have better form in running, and taking care of our bodies: what we eat, what not to eat, what we need to do to recover after a game. He’s really stressed that stuff.”
Against Venezuela in the 1-0 win on Saturday, Shea played the entire game, mostly at left mid aside from a short stint on the right. He skimmed a low left-footed shot just past the far post and banged a header on frame that keeper Jose Morales parried with a nice save. Those were two of 15 shots generated by the U.S. as it controlled play for long periods. “I definitely felt we created enough chances to score at least a couple of goals and I could have had a couple myself,” he said. “That was disappointing but we’re happy we got the win. That’s always important.”
He didn’t play in either Gold Cup match, one of which the U.S. lost, against Panama last summer. Neither did most of the players named for the training camp and friendlies this month, but he does have experience playing in Central and South America with U.S. youth teams as well as FC Dallas.
The U.S. trained Tuesday at Estadio Rommel Fernandez in humid conditions and came off the field drenched in sweat. In the Panama squad are recently signed FC Dallas teammates Blas Perez and Carlos Rodriguez; Shea doesn’t yet know them but he knows what to expect.
“The games are scrappier and the fields aren’t as good,” he says of Concacaf away. “The ball can bounce any way at any moment. As a team they’re not always the best but individually they’re very skilled and they can make something happen out of nothing.”