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People die in this weather. But everyone — the videographers, the media interns, the public relations director, the journalist — is out here sweating through their shirts in the FC Dallas Stadium parking lot because soonish, Brek Shea, the hometown kid whose face fills a poster hanging from the stadium, whose name is on the backs of hundreds of jerseys at every home game, who at 22 (and 21 and 20) has been called "the future of American soccer," is going to drive over a pile of oranges.
FC Dallas is trying to promote its upcoming derby against in-state rivals the Houston Dynamo, whose mascot for some reason is an orange. Shea has a toe injury and won't play, but nobody knows that. All they know is that Shea can play, is eligible, that is, for the first time since more than a month ago, when he got called for a foul and kicked the ball into the nuts of the assistant referee. The ref took it like a pro, but Shea got slapped with a three-game suspension anyway.
Shea walks out and he's the only one not sweating. He's 6-foot-4, 180 pounds, less than five percent of it body fat, and even through his baggy T-shirt everyone can see he's got arms like nautical ropes. He looks like the happy result of a science experiment, if the scientists were among the growing segment of Americans who wish their country were better at soccer and who broke into a genetics lab to do something about it.
Shea's trademark platinum-blonde faux hawk (when it's not dyed red, or worn long, or in cornrows) looks good, as it usually does, and he's wearing highlighter-orange sunglasses to match his highlighter-orange shoes. He's a salad bowl of stereotypes: surfer and skater and frat boy, and with his religious and motivational tattoos, like the verse from Phillipians 4:13 on his ribs and "Believe" on his calf, you can add badass and church boy, too. He's a marketer's wet dream.
He's a Texas boy, too, so naturally he drives an old yellow Bronco that he bought on a whim before ripping off the doors and the hood. But then the drive shaft fell out, so today, no Bronco. He's in his stepbrother Kevin's shiny new Ford pickup instead.
"They say they don't flip," Shea says as we climb in. To prove it, he does a doughnut, and the Ford definitely feels like it's going to flip, but it doesn't. A PR guy gets in now and puts on the team mascot's giant bull head and hangs halfway out the window, and Shea accelerates up to the orange pile, aiming his left tire at the citrus.
He backs up and stops in the middle of the peel-and-pulp killing field, and then, with his foot on the brake, he hits the gas and fruit goes flying in his wake, and everyone cheers. The team's PR director — a cheerful young woman who doubles as one of Shea's best friends, his second mom, his third sister and his one-man security detail — gets in, and we listen to Wiz Khalifa as he drives across the street to a sandwich shop called Firehouse Subs. The media guys stay behind to scrape orange slush off the ground.
Shea's been eating here since May 14, 2010, the day before he scored his first Major League Soccer goal. That was before people knew what to do with this freak of nature, when he came off the bench as a center back, or center midfielder, or wherever else the team needed him. It was before he moved to the left wing and ran roughshod through the 2011 MLS season, before he was voted to the All-Star team, then first-team all-league, then second runner up in the MVP race, and before Team USA coach Jürgen Klinsmann took notice and, for a while anyway, Shea was among Team USA's leaders in playing time.
He's been coming here since before he was voted the 2011 U.S. Soccer young male athlete of the year, before people started comparing him to American players like Landon Donovan and Jozy Altidore and international stars like Cristiano Ronaldo and his favorite player, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, although he may have been blessed with more physical tools than any of them.
Still, this is soccer in America, so he gets only a little attention when we walk in. An employee asks him to sign a Brek Shea bobblehead. A few kids point. Then his Adidas commercial comes on. He looks up at it critically, studying himself on the restaurant's flatscreens as customers look at the TV, and then to him, and then back to the TV.
"That one scene took like six hours to shoot," he says of the 30-second clip. "Just the one part, where it shows me putting my hand in the shoe. I couldn't hold the shoe right, I guess."
He talks for a while about growing up in the backwoods of Bryan, Texas, about his painting hobby, about his family, about his signature hairstyles ("Long hair is the shit"). He's a five-year pro, though, on national teams since he was 15, so he answers the questions he wants to answer and deflects the ones he doesn't. Then come the questions about that El Salvador game, the one where Team USA failed to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics, the meltdown that started Shea's current meltdown of being hurt and angry, of not being called up to the national team for the first time since Klinsmann was named head coach.
US youth soccer lacks creative players that are only developed from playing on the streets and/or parks day after day for many years. Here, players are put on club teams at such a young age and learn the tactics and basics, but will never learn the magic that you see in Messi, Ronaldinho or Zidane.
Good write up, Mr. Howard. Our club doesn't get a lot of local press, and this is probably about the best piece I've read about FCD, Brek or US Soccer in general. Thanks for that.
This article was written several weeks ago and doesn't begin to mine the depth of Shea's current funk on the field and as of Wednesday night - his feud with the coach. Additionally, the dirty secret about Brek is that he has many of the tools, but the one he doesn't have is a "first touch". For those that don't care about soccer that is about as important in that sport as "first step speed" or "hand/eye coordination" is in others. When the ball arrives to Brek, he simply can't control it to the level needed to go to the next level.
But today he is a player that is even deeper in the doghouse with the coach, and now his teammates (who many of which are clearly starting to tire of his antics) than was reported at the time this was written. After being subbed out early in Wednesday night's match in San Jose, Brek barked at his coach and then sulked at the end of the bench. All after he played arguably his worst match in the FCD jersey. The team leader, Daniel Hernandez (a player who isn't exactly the coach's favorite himself these days after a poor Twitter session) said this about Brek, "Nobody likes to come out of a game. I don’t like to come out of a game. I’m pissed off when I come out of a game, or when I don’t play. But when things are not going well for you, or you’re not having a good game, and coach needs to make a change, you have to respect it. At this point in the season, we can’t have those breakdowns right now, because we need everybody. We need him. He’s one of the stars of our team, and we need him to step up with his leadership and his play. He’s obviously one of the best players in the country. In order for us to try to fight to get into the playoffs, we’re going to need him and everyone else, 100 percent.”
Brek is young, but there are many that worry that the kid has let the press go to his head. Many times it appears that he's far more concerned about his hair, tattoos, his look and his painting than achieving the next level of the sport - which isn't in Dallas btw - but before he can get there, he's got to do it here. Brek has potential, but soccer is littered with potential.
If they were really soccer hungry they'd make the drive, I do. When it was at the Cotton Bowl I went to games and they weren't exactly packing it in there. The season they moved to South Lake I did not go, I have my limits.
I don't think the problem is hype but expectations. By that I mean that people hear super star and assume they will be as good as Messi or Ronaldo. At this point I would be happy and what others should expect are more above average players like Dempsey or Donovan. Maybe in the next 10 years we can raise those expectations to players at the level of RVP, Sergio Aguero, Falcao, and other great but not yet Messi/Ronaldo level.
The biggest problem with soccer in the US is very weak youth development. Rather if one is to say the US is getting better than why have MLS teams been knocked out by "weak" teams from the Caribbean and Central America? Also many USMNT pundits were way to quick to predict regional US hegemony after a decade of good results, only to have Mexico come roaring back with string of impressive youth team results that have spanned for more than five years and solid senior team performances as well. Invest in youth development and it will pay dividends the problem is getting the clubs to set up the infrastructure. On a personal level I find it lamentable that Frisco is home to FC Dallas. Living in Dallas proper I don't appreciate driving all the way to the sticks to some bougie ass suburb to watch soccer. Lots of soccer hungry fans would gladly check out FC Dallas if they where in Dallas proper and pack the stadium way more than they do now. The Fair Park area would be a great area for a small stadium and an accompanying sports complex.
Thanks Greg for the awesome read. I appreciate you giving Brek and FC Dallas some much deserved exposure. Even though their record doesn't scream it, FCD is one of the most talented teams in the MLS. I'm beyond proud of them and appreciate their representation. Dallas till I Die!
Very well written and an interesting perspective on US soccer. One point of order, though: As a European who has watched and played soccer since I was able to stand up, I have to say the comment suggesting Shea is a veteran at 22 is ridiculous. It's accepted wisdom in the soccer world that outfield players generally don't hit their peak until around 28. Plus, Shea still has a shout of a good career overseas. Having watched him a few times, there's a lot of talent there. Needs to head east soon though.
Sitting in a NYC bar last night watching FC Dallas take on San Jose, I was reminded of what makes this club so gratifying (and often heartbreaking) to watch. They will win brilliantly or lose in a riveting blaze of glory. Coach Hyndman seems to encourage an exciting, attacking form of soccer. Shea's flair (even his impetuousness) is part of what makes this side easy to support, even if they're suffering in the standings. I'm thrilled to see FC Dallas get some more media exposure in the D/FW area - and I hope it's a trend that the Observer will continue to foster. This former Dallasite will continue watching this team from his local soccer bars in New York with great affection - even through the pain of their recent poor form.
Very nice read on an interesting player. Something the other media outlets never even have the foresight to do. Enjoyable, thanks.
Wow Greg. Great article. So very well-written. It's hard to write about sports, but this is a fascinating piece. I'm enjoy most sports and am a big fan of soccer. So more soccer or FC Dallas coverage would be great. If the Observer is a alternative mag, then I think it would be something worth looking in to. American soccer has become something of an alternative following and culture. I'm so sick of the Cowboys, Jerryworld, NBA in general and the like. I find myself always going back to the "beautiful game" and our local team. They've had rough season, but anyone who follows the team knows they've basically had the worst luck with injuries than any team I've ever followed.