[USA MEN]On Aug. 15, 2012 the U.S. men’s national team pulled off the unthinkable: it beat Mexico at the dreaded Azteca Stadium.
Most fans will remember this game for Tim Howard’s truly heroic performance between the pipes to deny Mexican striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez from scoring several clear-cut chances, rather than the fact that Mexico dominated the Yanks in nearly all aspects of the game.
The American attack looked far from dangerous and seemed content to hold out for a scoreless draw, but that all changed after Coach Jurgen Klinsmann introduced a certain upstart in the 78th minute.
After being on the field for barely even a minute, Brek Shea received the ball on the left wing and aggressively dribbled at a Mexican defender, nutmegged him and picked out forward Terrence Boydwith a cross. Boyd’s nifty backheel pass found Michael Orozco Fiscal, who tapped the ball into the net to give the USA its first ever win at the Azteca.
But somewhere along the way since that historic night in Mexico City, Shea lost the swagger and flare American fans had grown accustomed to seeing.
After starring in the U.S. Under-17 Residency Program in Bradenton, Fla., FC Dallas drafted the blond Texas with the second overall pick in 2008 MLS SuperDraft. Although the 6-foot-3 Shea played sparingly during his first two MLS seasons, he did earn a call-up to the U.S. under-20 national team for the Under-20 World Cup in Egypt.
Shea enjoyed a breakout season in 2010, making 25 league appearances and scoring five goals for FC Dallas as it reached the MLS cup final. His efforts culminated with his first cap for the senior national team in an October friendly against Colombia.
The following MLS season proved to be Shea’s best season to date. He scored 11 goals, earned an MLS MVP nomination and even accepted an invitation from Arsene Wengerto train with Arsenal during the MLS offseason.
Shea also established himself as a favorite of the Klinsmann regime, making eight appearances for the Stars and Stripes in 2011.
But 2012 marked the beginning of Shea’s downward spiral. He was part of the U.S. under-23 national team that failed to qualify for the London Olympics -- he gave away the ball on the decisive play that resulted in the stoppage-time goal El Salvador scored to eliminate the USA -- and managed only three goals in an MLS campaign rattled with injuries and underwent foot surgery in the offseason.
Despite concerns about his health, English Premier League club Stoke City signed Shea to a four-and-a-half year contract. Shea made just two substitute appearances for Stoke before its coach, Tony Pulis, decided to shut Shea down for the rest of the EPL season so he could focus on getting healthy.
Coaches and analysts have come up with different reasons for Shea’s recent poor run of form. On several occasions while he was with FC Dallas, Coach Schellas Hyndman suggested that Shea had attitude problems. In June, reports surfaced that Pulis doubted Shea’s fitness even after the winger became healthy again.
Shea was supposed to be back with Stoke City for preseason training, but an injury to Joshua Gatt and a strong outing off the bench against Guatemala resulted in his being added to the U.S. Gold Cup roster at the last minute.
Saying that Shea’s performance Saturday against Cuba left something to be desired would be an understatement. Shea’s touches were sloppy and when he did manage to beat his defender one-on-one, his service into the box missed its mark, save one opportunity Herculez Gomezshould have done better with.
Once Shea made way for Jose Francisco Torres, who is not a natural wide midfielder, Torres and Edgar Castillo combined very well together to terrorize the Cuban right flank.
Did Saturday’s performance mark the end of Shea’s time as a contributor for the national team? Certainly not.
Shea is still only 23 and as a natural left footer, he is a rare asset for Klinsmann to insert into a position that has lacked depth throughout the German’s tenure as coach.
When he’s at his best, Shea’s combination of size, speed and technical ability gives the Yanks a truly unique weapon in the attack. But his performance against Cuba may severely limit his further participation in the Gold Cup.
Shea needs to tap into his potential for both club and country if he has any hope of making a possible U.S. World Cup next summer, and he needs to do it soon.