Brek Shea: America's enigmatic winger

[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 Boyd with 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 Wenger to 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 Gomez should 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.
9 comments about "Brek Shea: America's enigmatic winger".
  1. Dustin Johnson, July 15, 2013 at 7:56 a.m.

    Klinsmen should just send him back to England. If he doesn't get it together at Stoke his World Cup chances are nil.

  2. Mike in SoCal, July 15, 2013 at 8:27 a.m.

    Sad to see such a promising young player struggle so much but Jurgen rightfully pulled him at the half. He did not look comfortable on the ball at all or even just doing basic stuff like properly trapping passes his way or his touches. He predictably clung to that left side and didn't move off of it, not only did that allow the Cuban defenders to easily mark him it also kept Castillo from being able to come forward.

    He needs time to work on his game, hopefully he does and get back to some of the promise he showed a year or two ago.

  3. Tim Gibson, July 15, 2013 at 8:31 a.m.

    Come'on Dustin, that's a bit harsh ain't it? You especially should know better & what happens after a few back-2-back over par rounds & in a long-term funk. This kid deserves a 2nd and 3rd chance. USA is struggling to get the ball in the back of the net in the longer/larger tourney's. This kid has size which we lack & he once showed the confidence to beat defenders 1:1 which is another area where we suck BIGtime. I say he needs support now to get him back to where his roots are. I'm sure he wants to fulfill his dream & get back as well. GO USA!

  4. Soccer 2306, July 15, 2013 at 9:15 a.m.

    He should not be on the national team. Period. If you saw how poorly he played in the u20 Olympic tournament and now here, he has been given 2 and 3 chances. We need to move on and give others their chance. Maybe he will start playing for his EPL team and work his way back but all he is doing now is taking a needed roster spot from another deserving player.

  5. Kent James, July 15, 2013 at 9:48 a.m.

    Since Shea has demonstrated that he has the ability to play well at the national team level, the problem is more mental than it is technical. If he can fulfill his potential, he'll be a crucial addition to the USMNT. So the question is, how to get him back into the mindset to be able to do consistently what he's been able to do sporadically. Not sure if its more faith in him at the National Team level (by giving him additional opportunities, the way JK did with Altidore), or by letting him earn his way back at Stoke (the downside being, his lack of confidence may hurt him there as well). Not sure the right course, but that's why JK gets the big bucks...

  6. Bill Anderson, July 15, 2013 at 10:02 a.m.

    The trials with the full national team are at their end. If Shea doesn't find his form with Stoke he will not be included in the Brazil roster, nor should he be. The frustrating thing about Shea is that he rises or falls on his own. The other team doesn't take Shea out of the game, he takes himself out of it. There is no doubt that there is great potential in this player, but no more minutes need to be created for him on the US squad. It is all on his professionalism at this point. Can he craft a professional career in football? Maybe...

  7. Chris Sapien , July 15, 2013 at 1:06 p.m.

    As much as I would like to see someone with his physical attributes added to the Nats long term, with our currently crowded more developed and experienced midfield, it has always been a long shot for him to make Brazil.

  8. John Singer, July 15, 2013 at 4:11 p.m.

    Anyone who has ever played competitive sports knows that what we are witnessing with Brek Shea is a total crisis of confidence. When you are where he is right now you do not want the ball anywhere near you. I saw this with Fernando Torres. When he was with Liverpool he was one of the finest strikers on the planet, but he is a shadow of his former self and it is all mental.

  9. Cali Swag, July 17, 2013 at 7:53 p.m.

    While The Article Is Written Well, I Find That The Article Is Merely Stating Things That People Already Know. However, I Look Forward TO Reading Your Work In The Future. Also, Your Titles Could Be Improved

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