I think the biggest sticking point about this deal revolves around his ability to be challenged in England. I don't know Brek Shea, but I can suss out some small details about his soccer personality based on his past (which I've viewed from up close for his entire career). He's mercurial, and I get the sense that he needs to feel pushed consistently for his career to keep from spiraling into apathy. There are so many instances I can access immediately that involve Shea completely switched off. There are fewer when he was dialed in, but they are breathtaking.
I thought for a time that Shea's own aloofness would severely challenge his ability to earn a look in a league that mattered. His cycle followed periods of intense production, a lag when they didn't immediately produce transfer fruit and then a trough. Hard to earn a meaningful transfer like that.
Luckily, Stoke decided to break the cycle. Hopefully this augurs a career renaissance for the most unpredictable player in the pool.
Brek Shea is back from his training session in London and is comparing his mindset to that of Clint Dempsey. It's admirable, and Dempsey is enjoying a career year as a Cottager, but soccer hype in the States is a relative term. The soccer media here is decidedly softer than the notably hawkish scribes in tabloid-rich England and on the Continent, where soccer news is devoured like so many delicious nuggets of Belgian chocolate. The rumor mills swirl faster abroad, and I dare say Shea would have trouble being recognized even in the most cosmopolitan of places here. So much of that hype, that push, must come from within. It's a tougher scenario. At best, Shea receives a passing or failing grade from a major media outlet, which in turn spurs vigorous online debate from a notably small subsection of the population. At worst, his performances pass into history almost completely unnoticed. Either way, popular call-in shows and newspapers from suburbia to the inner-city do not care about the fate of Brek Shea.
Indeed, the trouble for Shea could actually be lack of expectation. The perception is changing, but we've come to expect little individually from our Nats as a rule. Using Michael Bradley as the recent litmus, American players have always been long on athletic prowess and short on skill. Naming my top skill guy, Tab Ramos, is a sad indictment. Players like Shea are challenging this paradigm, that Americans are automatons who can run for days but couldn't dribble their way out of an empty airplane hangar. But Shea has been sheathed by his nation's spotty past in the game and a general perception that whatever the USMNT accomplishes, it does so with a team ethic in defiance of the kind of aesthetic that truly makes soccer The Beautiful Game. It has shelved our belief, for however long I can't say, that we are capable as a nation of producing a Messi or a Rooney or even anything close. So Shea's expectations are managed accordingly.
I hope Shea follows Dempsey's lead in a few areas. As a small-town kid from Nacogdoches (which is the very definition of backwoods for those not versed in the Texas countryside), Dempsey has adjusted to life abroad as well as can be expected. He seems not to notice or care that Americans aren't supposed to make defenders look stupid in the Best League in the World. But shouldering thousands of pounds of criticism has never been the purview of the American soccer player. If they fail, they're another case for the trash bin along with scores of other flame-outs. If they succeed, they do so modestly as Dempsey (Fulham), Bradley (Chievo Verona) and Landon Donovan (Everton) have shown in spells with sides abroad. Real Madrid prodigies these are not.
So with that lens, I look at Brek Shea wondering how to properly set his ceiling, where to place the bar. He is not a failure if he doesn't land with a CL side, as we'll all agree, but should he be viewed more critically? Whatever pressure is on him is almost entirely self-inflicted. Managing outward pressure and using it, much as you would create a diamond, can produce some magnificent results. I don't have the answers to these questions, but they are worth kicking around. The more you ask of yourself, the more you reap rewards. The arrival of Jurgen Klinsmann and the establishment of Claudio Reyna's youth program are both proof. Hopefully Shea becomes an extension.
In a sense, it's whatever. Shea and Hyndman will kiss and make up, FCD will go on with its miserable season and Shea will probably perk up in one form or another. He'll hit a hot spurt, score a bucket of goals in a short period of time, earn another call up to Camp Cupcake, generate some positive publicity, flash some of those trademark skills and then fade into the blackness again. And we'll be back in this neighborhood wondering what it's all about and why he is more style than substance. I've seen too much of Shea's antics and too many of his disappearing acts even in the midst of his hot spells to believe otherwise. And thus it shall ever be.