When United States men’s national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann sits down with his coaching staff next summer to determine his 2014 World Cup roster, one of the toughest choices he will have is whether or not to include Brek Shea on the U.S. roster.
In the two-plus years that Klinsmann has been in charge, Shea has become one of the most divisive figures among USMNT fans.
On the one hand, his performances can be dreadful to watch, as they were against Cuba this summer and Austria last month.
On the other hand, Shea has proven he has the ability to break open games for the U.S. in ways that no other American can—something he has proved twice against Mexico and repeatedly this summer in the Gold Cup.
So, should he be included on the U.S. squad that goes to Brazil, or not?
On club form alone, Shea does not deserve to go. His appearance last week off the bench for Stoke City was his first appearance for the club since March. The 31 minutes that he logged against Everton on Saturday were underwhelming, and he was largely responsible for Everton’s fourth goal. In fact, in Shea’s entire English Premier League career, he has only played 121 total minutes spread over three appearances.
Another argument against Shea’s inclusion is that he holds little value to the squad over 90 minutes. In fact, Shea’s worst performances for the USMNT have always come when he was included in the starting XI. Against Cuba this summer, America’s top soccer publications roundly lambasted his performance. Ives Galarcep of Soccer by Ives said:
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’s Jeff Carlisle gave Shea’s performance against Cuba a rating of 2 and said, “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.”
Last month against Austria, Klinsmann gave Shea the start where he promptly earned a match rating of 3.9 from U.S. fans—the lowest of all USMNT players.
In both games, Shea was pulled from the game in less than an hour, and the last time he has gone 90 minutes for club or country was September 2012 in a game for FC Dallas.
Considering all of that, including Shea on the U.S.’ World Cup roster might seem like an act of madness, especially when one considers the potential depth on the wing with players like Graham Zusi, Landon Donovan, Fabian Johnson, Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson, Aron Johannsson, Alejandro Bedoya, Joe Corona and Jose Torres.
However, Shea does still hold value to the team as a late-game substitute. As he has proven on multiple occasions, he is capable of injecting a combination of pace and power few others in the U.S. player pool possess.
Furthermore, much of his absence for club and country over the past year has not been his fault. He was struggling with a foot injury when he first moved to Stoke, picked up a nagging calf injury in the spring and an MCL sprain this fall during Stoke’s preseason. And, if last week’s appearance is any indication, he may be on the brink of breaking into Stoke’s lineup on a regular basis.
While Stoke is certainly not an EPL powerhouse, any American playing regularly in any of the top four leagues in Europe is still a big deal. And it shows that Mark Hughes—an experienced EPL manager—sees value in Shea as well.
Compounding the problem for Klinsmann is the lack of international games between now and next summer. While the U.S. will hold a January camp this year with a friendly against South Korea on February 1, Shea will be playing with Stoke during that time. In fact, the only FIFA match date before the U.S. opens up its World Cup training camp is March 5, with the U.S. to play a yet-to-be-determined opponent.
It’s impossible to know what the next several months will have in store for Shea, but if he can prove his value with Stoke off the bench as he has for the U.S. in the past, it may be enough to convince Klinsmann to give him a seat on the plane to Brazil. And even if Shea can’t break through with Stoke on a regular basis, he still holds value for the U.S. as a blunt-force instrument. His willingness to go one-on-one, especially in the last 15 minutes of a game when defenders’ legs are tired, could prove invaluable to the U.S. at the World Cup if and when a goal is needed.
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