On Tuesday night, with the United States men’s national team tied 0-0 in its first real test of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, Brek Shea got on the end of a perfect pass from Landon Donovan in the 82nd minute of play and scored the game-winning goal against Costa Rica.
Since his breakout season for FC Dallas two years ago, Shea has regularly been touted as the next big thing in American soccer.
However, what is so remarkable about Shea’s goal on Tuesday night was that it came on the heels of a horrific performance against Cuba just three days earlier. Against Cuba last Saturday afternoon, Shea was given the start and somehow managed to lose possession 14 times in just 45 minutes of play. He was mercifully withdrawn by U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann at the half.
The postgame evaluations were not kind to Shea, with Ives Galarcep from Soccer by Ives saying: “The worst half of soccer by a USMNT player in recent memory. He was a turnover machine, combining a bad touch with terrible crosses. It was truly painful to watch, and Klinsmann pulled him at halftime. So why not an even lower grade? Well, it’s not like he drew a red card or scored an own goal.”
ESPN was not much kinder, saying: “Hard to imagine how Shea could have played much worse. His crosses were miles off target, and he was unable to beat his opponent one-on-one. Perked up a bit late in the half, but he was not at all impressive. Deservedly pulled at halftime.”
So which Brek Shea is the real one? Is Shea the future of the USMNT, or just another great athlete who has gotten lucky a few times?
Shea has been a professional soccer player since he was 17 years old when he was drafted by FC Dallas in the 2008 MLS SuperDraft. Early in his career he was moved around the field quite a bit with stints as a forward, a winger, a left-back and even a center-back. In 2011, Shea had his breakout year, scoring 11 goals, including some real eye-catchers.
In his goal against Sporting KC in June 2011, Shea receives the ball 40 yards from goal before taking on four defenders all by himself and finishing past Sporting’s keeper.
The next month, Shea again scored a stunner, this time against Toronto FC. After winning the ball near midfield, Shea drove at the Toronto defense before crushing a shot from distance for the goal.
Shea’s impressive MLS performances in 2011 led Klinsmann, who had just been named the new head coach of the USMNT following the departure of Bob Bradley, to call Shea up for the first game of the Klinsmann era, a friendly against Mexico in August 2011.
In that match, Shea entered the game as a 60th-minute substitute and assisted on Robbie Rogers' equalizer for the U.S. in the 73rd minute. On the play, Shea won the endline and fired a service across the face of the net for Rogers, who had an easy tap-in.
The assist against Mexico would make Shea a favorite of Klinsmann’s going forward as Shea would start eight of the next nine matches for the U.S. However, in those games, he would fail to reproduce the form that had won him the spot in the first place.
In 2012, Shea’s poor form with the USMNT followed him into his club season with FC Dallas. Many assumed that Shea was simply worn out. In addition to playing nine internationals between September 2011 and February 2012, he also had a winter training stint with Arsenal, participated in the USMNT’s January camp and played for the U.S. U-23 squad in Olympic qualifying in March.
In July 2012, already suffering from a poor start to his MLS season, Shea had a public falling-out with FC Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman. They had an argument on the sideline after Shea was substituted out of a match against San Jose. After the game, Shea was kept away from the media with Damin Esper of Dallas News quoting Hyndman as saying “I think he’s in enough hot water already.”
Despite his poor club form in 2012, Shea was again called up for national-team duty in August 2012 with the U.S. set to take on Mexico at the famed Estadio Azteca—where the U.S. had never won.
Against Mexico, Shea was a 78th-minute substitute and immediately made an impact. His hard endline run and centering pass resulted in a goal by Michael Orozco in the 80th minute and the U.S.’ first ever win at the Azteca.
That winter, Shea secured a transfer away from FC Dallas to Stoke City in the English Premier League and, presumably, a fresh start.
However, once again, Shea sputtered as he struggled to recover from offseason surgery on his foot. He only made two appearances for Stoke in his five months with the club—both of them off the bench.
Meanwhile, FC Dallas, sans Shea, got off to one of the hottest starts in MLS going 6-1-1 in their first eight games. American soccer personality Alexi Lalas even commented: “you can’t underestimate how important not having Brek Shea has been to Dallas”.
Somewhat surprisingly, despite almost no playing time with Stoke, Shea was still called into the U.S.’ World Cup qualifying camp in May. He was, however, forced to withdraw from the camp due to a calf injury.
And while Shea was on the U.S.' 35-man provisional roster for the Gold Cup to take place in July, he was not expected to take part in the tournament. According to Joe Prince-Wright's report for NBC Sports, Klinsmann announced that Shea would play for the U.S. in their pre-tournament game against Guatemala, but then return to England to prepare with Stoke for the upcoming EPL season.
In the friendly against Guatemala, Shea again showed the flair that so many have expected of him but had not seen in a very long time. In the 88th minute, Shea got on the end of a pass from Stuart Holden and centered the ball for a goal by Alejandro Bedoya.
It was a nice contribution from Shea, who had entered the match in the 59th minute, and a good note to end his summer with the USMNT on.
However, once again, there would be an unexpected turn of events as an injury to Josh Gatt would force Klinsmann to put Shea on the squad for the Gold Cup at the last minute.
In the Gold Cup, Shea has gone from zero to hero with his late goal against Costa Rica helping absolve him of some of the embarrassment of his performance against Cuba.
But many USMNT fans are still wondering, who is the real Brek Shea?
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