Here's the problem with trying to properly appreciate one Dan Brekken "Brek" Shea, up-and-coming part of the USMNT and star winger for FC Dallas of Major League Soccer: It's really hard to get past the hair. As in, stunningly difficult. It's quite the sight, and can too often draw attention away from just how good the young Texan actually is. It's not every day you see a combination mohawk/mullet with a bright red streak through the middle on a 6'3" kid with silky moves and baller's disposition.
At the moment, Shea's hairdo makes him look like the unfortunate victim of a chance meeting with the guy with the chainsaw from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
His soccer abilities make him look like the future of American soccer.
But Brek is good. He's also young, just 22, and about as Texan as they come (right down to his bright yellow lifted Bronco and his love of the Texas flag). His unique style, both on and off the field, is already the subject of idle chatter throughout American soccer circles.
Is he good enough to start for the USMNT?
Is he destined to go off to Europe (I heard Arsenal was interested)?
What the hell is going on with his hair, and why is he laying shirtless on hay bales next to a model and a miniature donkey?
The answers to the those questions, at least the first two, are likely to define Shea's career. When his game is on, Shea shows all the talent necessary to make them both resounding affirmatives.
Born in College Station, Texas, in 1990, Shea has been on a meteoric rise to American soccer stardom since high school. He was good enough to enter the MLS draft without any college experience, an honor typically reserved for players with mouth-watering potential (like Freddy Adu and Jozy Altidore, for example). Shea's time at US Soccer's Bradenton academy and appearances with various US youth sides made him one of the hottest prospects in the country prior to his decision to turn professional.
Picked by FC Dallas No. 2 overall in the 2008 SuperDraft, Shea entered Major League Soccer particularly raw. His size and dribbling ability made finding a regular position a challenge, and injuries at FC Dallas (exacerbated by thin MLS rosters) tempted head coach Schellas Hyndman to move Shea around. A lot.
Brek played as a center-back. He played as a midfielder. He played as a forward. For awhile, Brek's utility routine was his calling card. People around MLS knew he was good and getting better, but as long as he was bouncing around the Dallas formation, it was tough to get a handle on just how good he'd be.
Then in 2011, Hyndman finally stuck his peacocking youngster on the wing and let him fly. Shea excelled for Dallas on the left side of midfield, scoring 11 goals and garnering MVP consideration for much of the season. Shea was suddenly being mentioned in the same breath as top MLSers like Dwayne DeRosario, Chris Wondolowski and Brad Davis.
Watching Shea play can be an odd experience. He stands out, a stark contrast to shorter players and those with much more pedestrian hair. His height gives his play a slow-motion feel, even though it's clear he's moving quickly. The big strides he takes running without the ball give away to twitchy movements when he has it.
His left foot can hit a wicked cross, and he loves to whip them in from the end line, but he's just as capable of cutting into the center and finding a teammate on a run or a creative way to get a shot on goal.
He's a flair player counter to the mold, which is why he didn't stick in defense or at striker. Shea needs space to be effective.
In his spare time, Brek Shea is an artist. He has his own studio, Left Foot Studio (it's his garage) where he creates abstract pieces in the style of Jackson Pollock. Because art work by famous people is always at least somewhat in demand—especially when there's a good cause attached to it—Shea has raised thousands of dollars selling his pieces to the public.
Jurgen Klinsmann thinks highly enough of his young renaissance man to have called up Shea consistently since taking over the USMNT head coach position in the second half of 2011. Landon Donovan's consistent absences have given Shea a chance to impress on the left wing for the US, perhaps previewing the day when Donovan hands over the job permanently to the Texan. Shea's play has, as one would expect with a younger player, vacillated between "good" and "not so good."
Back with FC Dallas after the Nadir in Nashville™ (the US U-23s disastrous showing in the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament), Shea will now try to back up his strong 2011 MLS showing with an equally good 2012. Is his trajectory still on the rise?
There's a lot of Clint Dempsey in Brek Shea. It must be the Texan thing—the attitude, streak of rebellion, the willingness to try just because you can—and it's hard not to imagine Shea following Dempsey's path to European stardom.
The talent is there. We've seen it, topped by the patented Brek Shea hairdo, both in MLS and for the USA. The only thing missing for America's towering winger is consistency.
If Shea can add some of that to his flashy game, we'll be seeing that hair under much brighter lights.