By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"We had too much money to spend," Avila, who was drafted that same year, says of their rookie Generation Adidas contracts, which were for $78,000. "We didn't know what to do with all of it."
For a while it looked like Shea would have a promising start to his career. Then FC Dallas lost 5-0 and everyone got fired. They sacked Shea's doting head coach, Steve Morrow, and brought in Schellas Hyndman from SMU, a stern-looking man with skin like a catcher's mitt. They didn't get along.
"Me and Avi were rookies for like three years," Shea says. Before practices, they were always the ones who started in the middle during games of keepaway, an honor veterans reserve for the team's youngest players. When the team traveled, Shea and Avila couldn't go with them to bars after games. The veterans even tried to assign them book reports. (Shea was assigned To Kill a Mockingbird, which he never read.)
Shea tore his meniscus twice in his first two seasons. When he could play, he didn't start, and even though he came into the league as a wing, Hyndman used him all over the field because he was so athletic.
Finally, in 2010, Shea went to his agent.
"I wanted to leave," he says. But the MLS owns all of its teams and has the last say on player transactions. Shea already had hundreds of thousands of dollars invested into him through residency and MLS salary. He couldn't sit.
So instead, Shea says, Hyndman got a call from the commissioner.
"The league told FC Dallas, 'You have to either play him, sell him or trade him," Shea says. "If I had never said anything, I would've never played." (Hyndmann deflects questions about the incident, saying simply that Shea was a good player.)
He played in the next game after another forward got hurt, and by the time FC Dallas reached the league championship that year, Shea had established himself as one of its main threats — even as his teammate David Ferreira, a 5-foot-4 Colombian attacking midfielder, won MVP. When Ferreira went down early in the 2011 season, Shea went nuts, racking up 10 goals and three assists.
"At first, it was like, 'Give the ball to David!'" says Avila, now with Toronto FC. "Then suddenly, it was like, 'Give the ball to Brek!'"
Fans fell in love with the Bryan boy. He was exciting, flamboyant, not afraid to take defenders one-on-one or shoot from long distances. He signed every autograph after games. He was handsome and tall and had pretty hair and a Texas accent when the MLS' best players were Latino, its biggest stars an English guy with a posh accent and a black guy with a French one.
And so, here he is, the face of the franchise, the guy the team's PR director attaches herself to when the rare reporter comes around. She greets me when I walk into his house and, with help from Shea's Husky, guides me to the team's missing star, who is collapsed into a couch on the far side of the living room.
The MLS awarded Shea a $354,000 contract for the 2012 season, and he's got a reputation as an impulse spender. But the only hint of excess are the two flatscreens mounted side-by-side on one wall. One is turned to SportsCenter.
Cribs this is not. Colorful abstract paintings adorn the walls, but they're all Shea's, the end products of his stress-relief sessions in the garage. There's also an expensive pool table, a gift from an old teammate. That's about it. Shea's contract is among the highest in the league — and $150,00 less than that of the NBA's lowest-paid rookie. Some of the world's best soccer players make Shea's salary in a week.
He is sponsored by Adidas, and he does have a watch sponsorship, his own Deuce Brand "Free Bird" edition along with Portland Trailblazer Nolan Smith and street-baller Grayson "The Professor" Boucher. But the house feels more like a frat house than a one-percenter's, which is probably why multi-sport athletes go on to play basketball, football or baseball. With a couple extreme exceptions, there just isn't that much money to be made in American soccer.
All the lights are off in the living room, and when I approach, Shea stays slumped in the corner, his injured left foot outstretched, arms folded in over his chest. When I sit down, the PR director takes a seat on the other side, close enough to intervene should I try to pull anything. It's an uncomfortable sandwich, but I lean over, reach out my hand.
"What's going on?" I ask. "How's the season going?"
He looks at me for a second, then shrugs. "Ups and downs."
And that's how it is for a while. He's leaning back into the couch, grunting or nodding, and I'm leaning forward, pointing to his tattoos and asking what each one means, and the PR director is leaning forward, pontificating over my shoulder and intercepting questions when she can. When I ask about the Olympics, his face darkens and he deflects. It's about then that the PR woman decides to give me a tour, and walks me past Shea's albino rat, Vinny, and into the kitchen. Shea stays behind, sunken into the couch, brooding.
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.