Brek Shea to Stoke: Why It Strengthens the U.S. National Team
Since taking over for Bob Bradley as coach of the U.S. men's national team, Jurgen Klinsmann has consistently harped on the importance of American players challenging themselves against the best professionals on the planet.
Most recently, he even questioned the accomplishments of the spectacular Clint Dempsey in a Wall Street Journal piece.
Why will Shea's foray across the pond ultimately pay dividends for Klinsmann's U.S. team?
The first, and perhaps most valuable benefit of leaving MLS for England's Premier League is the pressure that comes from playing in a relegation-based system.
If FC Dallas have a poor season, the consequences for the club are minimal. A bad performance by Shea can go unnoticed by most.
Relegation, on the other hand, makes every game visible and critical. This will force the Texas native to bring quality more consistently. No more mental vacations.
Shea will gain a considerable amount from the pressure-packed atmosphere he's joining at Stoke, and that could result in a competition like the World Cup not seeming quite as foreign to the soon-to-be 23-year-old.
Competition is fierce in English soccer, and not only when clubs like Stoke are trying to steal points from world powers like Manchester United and Chelsea. It's also fierce on an individual level, like when young players are vying to start on their own club. Shea was essentially guaranteed inclusion in the first 11 for FC Dallas the past couple years. This will not be the case at mid-table Stoke. Training sessions will be dog-fights to earn minutes—and matches will be auditions—to justify future starts.
For U.S. national team fans, this move is brilliant news.
Style and pace have been talking points for Klinsmann since Day 1. He urges one- and two-touch soccer. He pines for creative, combination play built on short passing sequences originating from the back. He dreams about a U.S. team that is attack-minded in nature.
Technical soccer is vastly improving in MLS, but it is not at the level of the Premier League just yet. Shea's skill set should evolve in England and align more closely with what his American boss is looking for.
Time will tell if Brek Shea can torch defenders in the Premier League like he has in MLS. If he can blossom into the offensive machine his potential suggests, then U.S. soccer fans will be smiling all the way to Brazil.
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