Brek Shea was the face of FC Dallas the past two seasons, but now — pending international clearance — he will play for Stoke City. I’m glad for Shea. It’s always good to see American players get a shot in the world’s top league. But since I just bought an FC Dallas season ticket a few weeks ago, this is not welcome news.
I first saw Shea play in person in 2010, the season he made his first professional start and really came into his own for FC Dallas. He almost immediately caught my eye as a special player. It wasn’t just the flashy shock of ultra blonde hair. He hustled hard and wasn’t afraid to run with the ball at opponents. He had height, strength, speed, and all-important feistiness. He could scoot around the edges and get passes across the box or get shots off when other players would have lost possession. He spent that 2010 season under the radar and I shared FC Dallas fans’ pride of recognizing potential that the wider world hadn’t fully noticed yet.
By the start of 2011, the cat was out of the bag with Shea and opponents started marking him tightly. It was a tougher season for him (and FC Dallas), yet he was still a standout and a finalist for the league’s MVP. Buzz began building about him. In the offseason, he got to train for a few weeks at Arsenal. FC Dallas wisely renewed his contract through 2015. By the start of last season, the media spotlight on Shea was blinding. Even in Dallas he was becoming a household name (okay, still mostly just among us soccer nerds). US National Team Coach Jurgen Klinsmann jumped on board the Brek train too, granting Shea several consecutive caps.
Then the 2012 MLS season got under way and Shea fizzled on field. A turf toe injury sidelined him for several weeks. I actually observed him up close as he was nearing recovery from that injury when he participated in demonstration drills run by FC Dallas Head Coach Schellas Hyndman at Hyndman’s annual clinic for local coaches. I was impressed and surprised that Shea turned up for the demo – something he certainly wasn’t obligated to do on such a hot May afternoon. The drills included a mix of academy players and FC Dallas reserve players, but Shea played as hard as if he were trying to earn a starting spot. Afterwards he affably hung around to chat with coaches and pose for photos. He certainly didn’t appear too overwhelmed by stardom that day.
Shea continued struggling with injuries throughout 2012, but even when he was in the lineup he couldn’t recover his near-MVP form from 2011. Fans grumbled impatiently. Brek and Hyndman got into a spat on NBC when Hyndman benched him late during a contentious match at San Jose. Shea the wonder boy suddenly seemed mentally and physically drained.
Now it looks like the business side of soccer has reared its necessary and sometimes ugly head with Dallas apparently eager to cash in on Stoke City’s interest in the 22-year-old Shea. Shea was a rare rising star for Dallas, a real potential franchise player. I had a feeling it would just be a matter of time before a bigger club snatched him up – Dallas is too small a club to retain stars for very long. The only real surprise is why now? Shea had such a dismal 2012 MLS season that I was confident he would be in Dallas at least through 2013. I was really looking forward to this being a comeback season for Brek.
I should have been suspicious when defender Zach Loyd began featuring a bit more than Shea in FC Dallas’ promotional efforts toward the end of last season. Considering that and the rift between Hyndman and Shea, the writing has likely been on the wall for several months. I wish Dallas would use the Stoke cash they get for Shea on a replacement star, someone for season ticket holders like myself to get excited about. But I won’t hold my breath.
It’s a catch-22 for American soccer fans when deals like this come along. On one hand, you want to see U.S. players get opportunities in the world’s top league – it’s great for their development, enhances our national team, and improves American soccer’s reputation. On the other hand it highlights where MLS falls in the pecking order of the world’s soccer leagues. It seems difficult enough (particularly in a market like Dallas) to get fans to support MLS teams that actually have an American star or two, much less when those stars get shipped to more prestigious European leagues.
I wish Shea all the best at Stoke City. This FC Dallas fan will definitely miss him.