Get Him the Damn Ball: The Brek Shea Story

“Why never me?”

Alex Olshansky pops his TSG cherry with this insightful piece on The Rooster, Brek Shea. You can find great soccer analysis and difficult to digest spreadsheets from Alex on his own blog, Tempo Free Soccer.

Brek Shea was a promising young MLS talent at the start of the 2011 season.  Tall and full of pace, the former US U20 target striker’s attributes were so versatile that Schellas Hyndman started him at left back for the first couple games of the campaign. Shea quickly found his role as an attacking left winger, however, and started to impose himself on FC Dallas’ opponents.

After making the switch to the left wing, Shea played the full 90 minutes for each of the next 23 league games.  During this four month stretch Shea completed 34 Key Passes (pass immediately preceding attempt on goal), unleashed 64 Shots, and found the back of the net 10 times.  Among his goals were some of the better individual efforts in recent memory.  His play had seemingly reached a plane above MLS and speculation on his European prospects percolated.

European vacation….

The speculation reached a crescendo when Shea came on as a sub against Mexico in Klinsmann’s first game at the helm and almost singlehandedly led the US to a comeback win.  He would appear in the next nine USMNT games, catch the eye of Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, training with the Gunners in London for two weeks in November.  Shea’s ascent towards becoming the next US star seemed unstoppable; he was the heir apparent to the panache throne of Mathis and Dempsey.

Finally a future star for US fans who had been tantalized recently with only mere morsels from 19-year-old prodigy Juan Agudelo and brief flurry of bravado from Charlie Davies.

But, a funny thing happened just when the hype was reaching its apex:  Shea stopped scoring goals.

Two days after making a sparkling appearance against Mexico on August 11, Shea scored a goal for FC Dallas in an MLS league game in Philadelphia.

Since then, Shea has scored just two goals from the run of play in his last 35 games across all competitions (USMNT, CCL, US U23, MLS).

The tall lefty was left out of the May USMNT camp, has missed games due to injury and suspension and is not among the 18 players headed back his last stopping ground of glory, Philadelphia, to play for MLS in the All Star Game.  FC Dallas, in parallel, has also not recorded a victory in their last 13 matches.  Shea is still young (22 years old) but he has certainly hit a rut in his development.  A look back at the stats and chalkboards offers some insight into whether this is a full-on derailment or merely a thorny railroad tie in Shea’s progression.

Background

In order to ascertain if Shea has dropped off this season it would be helpful to see how he did in 2011, when he put together an MVP-type of year, reviewing all 2011 MLS league games since he switched to the left wing.  Key Plays are the sum of Successful Take-Ons, Successful Crosses, and Key Passes (including Assists).  Penalty Kicks are excluded  from my analysis as they can distort a player’s statistics.

Shea’s 2011 was MVP-worthy…

2011 MLS Season

Brek Shea 2011 stats

As can be seen above, Shea was a consistent force down the left side.  However, it appears that Shea’s regression started towards the end of the 2011 season.  For whatever reason, he was notably less involved in the second half of the season than in the first half.

Were teams keying on him? Was it fatigue?

2012 MLS Season

Brek Shea 2012 stats

Looking at Shea’s 2012 season it becomes pretty clear what the problems have been: too much time missed (due to injury, suspension, and U-23 duty) and not enough consistency in his role.  The first game of the season saw Shea play on the right wing.  After the U-23 flameout, he returned to play the first half against DC United on the right only to switch at halftime to the left.

Shea’s best stretch of the season by far was when he was firmly settled into his preferred left wing position with Blas Perez as an effective target striker.  Perez’s absence has forced Hyndman to deploy Shea in a more advanced position.    Shea has languished up top, however, and has struggled to get enough touches.  In fact, he had fewer touches in his last two games than in any other 90 minute outing in either 2011 or 2012.

It turns out that touches are pretty important for Brek Shea.  He is a creature of involvement.  As the chart shows below, if Shea is tasked with scoring, he needs to see a lot of the ball.

Even in the recent games where he supposedly was on the left wing (against Columbus and Chivas), it does not appear he stayed in that role.  These heat maps do a good job of illustrating Shea’s shifting role.

Left Wing

vs. New England (04/05/12)

vs. Montreal (04/14/12)

vs. Vancouver (04/21/12)

Left Wing?

vs. Columbus (05/12/12)

vs. Chivas (06/23/12)

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Forward

vs. Toronto (07/04/12)

vs. San Jose (07/07/12)

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It is not all bad news for Shea. He has continued to be a menace to defenses and he could easily have another goal or two on the season. Of players with at least 800 minutes played this season, Shea is a respectable 17th in MLS in shots attempted per minute. The impetus for Shea to rediscover his golden form from 2011 is pretty clear: get some attacking help, keep Shea on the left, and get him the damn ball.

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24 responses to this post.

  1. Also, get him to start really focusing on his football instead of his fashion (which is terrible)
    I’m not terribly certain what his priorities are at the moment. Head may have been turned by all that comes with being a professional footballer.

    Reply

  2. Posted by dth on 2012/07/17 at 10:44 AM

    The big problem with Shea is a microcosm of FC Dallas’s problems–they’ve got a ton of dumb players out there, and with Hernandez fading and Ferreira out, they can’t cover up for guys like Jacobson. So a lot of the time Shea will try good, solid, fundamental plays–one/twos, combinations, etc.–and his teammates are often just too tactically naive to figure it out quickly.

    The organization in general is not going in the same direction. Recently Dallas signed Kellyn Acosta as its seventh homegrown player, meaning that homegrown players make up a substantial portion of the team’s roster. So front office management sees homegrown players as an important component of the team–but tell that to Schellas Hyndman. He’d rather play Scott Sealy.

    Dallas isn’t big enough for Hyndman and the front office. One or the other will need to go, and Shea will likely languish until they figure out whatever they want to be doing.

    Reply

    • Posted by dth on 2012/07/18 at 9:46 PM

      Hyndman withdraws him and Shea and he appear to be at odds. Hyndman has some strengths but he’s really worn out his welcome, and his personal philosophy is at odds with the club’s. They ought to fire him.

      (oh, and nice goal from Jose Villarreal. Needs to get stronger on the ball so he doesn’t get knocked off it so easily. Weight room?)

      Reply

      • Posted by Jason on 2012/07/18 at 9:56 PM

        Agree completely. There are surely deficiencies on the Dallas squad but they have the talent to have a much better season then they have been so far. That has to fall on Hyndman. Not too mention the way he has handled Brek.

        Reply

    • Posted by Nick on 2012/08/12 at 2:05 PM

      The home grown issue drives me to the point of breaking things. I hear nothing but great things about the development academy and yet their products are signed to pretty much be season ticket holders with benefits. Those kids just won the FCD and Hyndman a damn title, and yet they can’t get an ounce of playing time with the first team.

      Reply

  3. He needs to play in a real league. Period.

    Reply

  4. Great, detailed work, but having watched Brek and FC Dallas, I should note that:
    – for Brek, touches vs contribution is very chicken-eggy. When he sees a lot of the ball, many times it is specifically because he’s playing well and getting into good positions. Causation probably runs the other way, too, but it’s hard to know the extent. When I saw Brek play in Columbus a couple months ago, he wasn’t assertive, energetic, or dangerous very often, and his teammates wisely didn’t give him the ball with any regularity. His bad form was (and maybe still is) partially because:
    - he got turf toe a couple months back. That night in Ohio he was favoring the injury every single time I saw him move. I came away from that match furious that Hyndman started him, let alone playing him the full 90. His suspension after that match provided some rehab time, but it’s hard to tell whether he ever fully recovered.

    Overall, this is great article with interesting insights. Well done. Just thought I’d offer some context.

    Reply

  5. Posted by Nelsonaoatl on 2012/07/17 at 6:07 PM

    I liked it more when it said popped his TSG than TSG cherry.

    Reply

  6. I don’t mean to excuse Brek or any of his entitled behavior that has been detrimental to the team, but it sure seems like there is a very real hater culture in US Soccer. Sometimes it seems like former players who didn’t get the same opportunities or coverage that these guys get (chief hater being Eric Wynalda who has taken shots at every truly great player we’ve produced who is better than him: Landon, Deuce, Mike Bradley) and current players who aren’t as talented but view themselves as being more committed to the team or harder working (in this case, Daniel Hernandez). Most of the time, the criticism leveled at these guys is fair and deserved, however most of the gripes they have had with MLS, officiating or the lack of quality around them to satisfy their ambitions is correct.

    I’m very aware that my interest in FC Dallas and Brek Shea is strictly as a national team fan. I could care less if FC Dallas ever wins another game as long as Brek Shea is developing his game and reaching his potential. I’m very aware that Schelles Hyndman, Daniel Hernandez and other FC Dallas players who are critical of Brek care very much about the success of FC Dallas. Rightly so, obviously. It’s just that even though Brek is to blame for much of the criticism they have for him, he’s still better than what’s around him. His development and potential is still more important for the growth of the game long term than any relatively unimportant FC Dallas player, coach or game they win. You hate to excuse this kind of behavior and you want the player to genuinely learn and grow from these situations, but because of the deficit our players face in youth development, Brek Shea is already 22 damn years old. He needs to hit his ceiling and fast! It’d be one things if he was a petulant 16 year old, but he’s already in his prime and if we ever want to be an elite soccer playing nation, our players need to hit their stride at 18, not 25. It’s time to get going.

    I also am really annoyed with how Hyndman has been more than forthcoming about Shea missing over 70+ training sessions a) without pointing out that most of those are because of senior national team call ups, olympic qulifying and b) trying to act like he’s above calling Shea out directly to poison the media and fans against him when that’s EXACTLY what he’s doing.

    Reply

    • Posted by dth on 2012/07/19 at 9:45 AM

      It’s a little rich that Daniel Hernandez is referring to Shea as immature, given that Hernandez threw a temper tantrum earlier this season about being taken off free kick duty.

      Reply

  7. If Shea is on his way out as recent events in Dallas might seem to indicate, we’d welcome him in Houston to slot in at the top of our shiny new 4-3-3.

    Reply

  8. Posted by PanchoMiguelMoralesdeConejo on 2012/07/20 at 7:19 AM

    Hate to be nitpicky…but “The speculation reached a crescendo when Shea came on as a sub against Mexico in Klinsmann’s first game at the helm and almost singlehandedly led the US to a comeback win.”

    We wish….

    Plus, it was really Rogers who was the sparkplug in that game

    Reply

    • Posted by Tony on 2012/07/20 at 1:10 PM

      FC Dallas need to trade for a youngster like Bunbury to support Shea. Bunbury is wasted at SKC. Bunbury did well under the guidance of Hyndman-albeit briefly-during the Gen Addidas stint a few years ago.

      Reply

    • Posted by Tyler on 2012/07/20 at 10:38 PM

      Rogers tapped in a goal that Shea put on a platter for him. Shea was definitely the better player that game.

      Reply

  9. [...] Get Him The Damn Ball: The Brek Shea Story by Alex Olshansky [...]

    Reply

  10. Posted by John on 2013/01/19 at 5:39 AM

    I support Stoke City I hope he signs for us we need a good left winger
    John From the uk

    Reply

    • Posted by matthewsf on 2013/01/19 at 9:03 AM

      He’s a solid player. A little temperamental but just needs a good coach and good environment. Few have his combination of handles, size and speed.

      Reply

      • Posted by John on 2013/01/19 at 9:16 AM

        Thank you for your reply, I just hope Stoke can sort this tansfer out this month has the transfer window closes on the 31st of Jan and opens again I the close season.

        Reply

  11. I follow his development since there was an interest from Liverpool. He didn’t have a bit of luck once he joined Stoke City. He is definitely a gifted player and despite I don’t like “The Potters”, I hope the next season he will show his potential.

    Reply

    • Posted by John on 2013/05/16 at 12:42 PM

      He was not fit when he came to Stoke, He also missed pre season training and he needs time to adjust to the premier league. And he will get his chance next season.
      Long time Stokie.

      Reply

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