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The SBI View: Brek Shea can be answer for USMNT at left back

Photo by Jonathan Dyer/USA Today Sports
Photo by Jonathan Dyer/USA Today Sports

Brek Shea has been a fringe player for the U.S. Men’s National Team for quite some time due to form and fitness, but his play in the 2016 MLS season thus far makes him a serious candidate to feature for the U.S. at this summer’s Copa America Centenario.

The tournament is still months away, so it is too early to say Shea is fully deserving of a spot on head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s roster. However, he has shown with Orlando City SC so far this season that he has developed into a capable left back.

Take Sunday’s 4-1 win against 2015 MLS Cup champions Portland Timbers as an example. Shea’s attacking talents were on full display. The 26-year-old is always going to be a player who wants to combine up the field and be a part of his team’s attack, and on Sunday, he did just that and scored the SBI MLS Goal of the Week.

“He’s a big part of whatever we do at this club. I think Brek Shea’s best years are ahead of him,” Orlando City head coach Adrian Heath told SBI ahead of the 2016 season.

“If he has an injury-free campaign, which is what we’re all hopeful for, then I don’t see any reason why Brek can’t get better and better and get himself back to where he’s an integral part of the U.S. national team.”

There are still concerns over whether or not Shea is the best answer at left back for the USMNT. Some critics may say his attacking presence is a major bonus, but he is not the best defender. Shea will find himself further up the field throughout most of the game, if he starts at left back, which will undoubtedly leave room in behind for opposing sides to take advantage of the open space. For example, the Timbers almost scored their first goal at the Citrus Bowl on Sunday because Shea was not back to help his back line (1:45 below).

Shea has shown signs of improvement at defending from the position, though, evident in his performance against New York City FC on March 5. Making three tackles and winning one aerial battle, Shea helped Orlando City record their first and only shutout of the season.

If Shea continues to improve and stay in form ahead of the Copa America, it would be hard for Klinsmann to pass on him like he did for the two World Cup qualifiers in March.

Klinsmann has recently been discussing the dilemma of where to play Fabian Johnson, who has excelled as a midfielder for Borussia Monchengladbach in the German Bundesliga this season. Yet, Johnson can be considered to be the USMNT’s best choice at left back too. Having Johnson further up field, where he poses more of a threat, should be a priority for Klinsmann this summer. The U.S. needs to be able to generate chances from the run of play, and Johnson has proven during this campaign with his club that he is capable of creating and finishing.

Having a player like Shea playing at left back — behind Johnson — could prove to work wonders for the U.S. moving forward down the left wing. Even against teams that will likely control more of the possession, like Colombia, Argentina and Brazil, the U.S. left wing can be a dangerous counter-attacking side with both Shea and Johnson flying forward.

Time will tell if Shea can continue to impress and grow at the position with Orlando City this campaign, but signs are positive after five weeks.


  1. Oh boy. To much fantasy soccer here . This boy Shea is actually a very poor player , Defends like a Mastodon, poor first touch, loses his composure too often (see the latest suspension). To many fans voicing opinions without thinking things thru.

  2. To be honest, maybe we don’t need to look any further than our own USMNT games to find out that Brek is actually a good option at left back. He scored a great goal against Chile and, as stated before, none of the goals against were really on him. He struggled to do anything else offensively that game though, but he was fine defensively. Watching back through, Chile seemed more intent on pumping in crosses from Yedlin’s side.. Against Panama in the January camp he kept it pretty mistake free. He scored a really well-taken free kick against Switzerland and swing in at least two nice crosses, while handling is own flank. This is no doubt his best game at left back for us.

    As for people ripping on the 2011 Gold Cup, they’re mostly talking about his game against Cuba. In fact, that’s really the only match in which Shea really laid an egg. Because watching back through the Gold Cup, Brek provided can be seen providing pinpoint crosses, nice passes, agility, speed, and scoring ability. He came away with two game winners as well. One was literally stolen from a teammate – however he created essentially a tap in for Eddie Johnson to fluff- , and the other was a 1v1 breakaway, but I still find it funny that people use that tournament as an example of his lack of usefulness when he scored the goal that won the whole thing…

  3. What about my good friend Timothy Chandler? I was surprised nobody mentioned him. I was also surprised nobody mentioned Vincent, when guys like Payne, Lichaj, and the one and only Jonathan Bornstein were brought up.

    I really don’t see Shea being an answer for us at LB. That said, I don’t see anybody besides possibly one of these young guns like Payne or Vincent potentiallygrowing into that answer by 2018. Sure FabJo could do well there, but it’s like his fourth best position, and one I doubt would fill him with enthusiasm.

    I’ve watched every minute of Brek Shea’s international career, and he’s an answer for the USMNT like Mix Diskerud: in fits and starts and with typically more risk than reward.

  4. I love how everyone gets the cliché “everyone has a bad game very now and again” comments except for Shea. Sure the Gold Cup wasn’t great, but he surely wasn’t go awful, plus the whole squad was terrible and the coaching, not just him. and the Chile game we lost 3-2 and Chile is a GREAT team, plsu how in the hell is losing 3-2 to a good team totally Breks fault when none of the goasl were even totallt Breks fault?

    It’s just dumb…. We cry and cry for a LB, finally have one (it seems, fingers crossed), yet all people can do is throw salt….. DUMB!!!!

    Better BREKonize, he aint going anywhere, here to stay!!!

    • I feel like you’re trying to imply that those were his only two games or something, or that those were the only games that “haters” can point to … when he’s had over 30 USMNT appearances since 2010, and has rarely impressed. But sure, he’s a revelation at LB all of a sudden.

      Can’t we just say “nice goal” and keep our USMNT pants on?

    • Shea’s best games have all been 10-15 minutes stints coming off the bench to add a spark to the attack. When he starts he disappears or worse. The competition have all performed consistently better than Shea so far at the club level and on MNT. Still, give him a chance and if he can bring it then it’s all good. But, if you are judging from past performance then he still hasn’t really earned it.

  5. I wonder how many Villafana, Shea, Garza, and Lichaj games any of us have actually seen? I would doubt I’ve seen more than 10 of any of them if you don’t count NT games.

  6. Left Back has always been an issue for the USMNT (and to be fair most national teams). Currently we have a handful of options that could be used to fill this roster spot, but most have been inconsistent when playing with the National Team. IMO the options are as follows:
    1) Fabian – Likely the best all around option. Checks all the boxes you’d want in an outside back…Good defensively, fast, adds to the attack, good technically & tactically. Problem is that he’s also our best wide midfielder.
    2) Villafana – Untested at the Sr. International level. Solid defensively, good going forward, has good speed. Need to test him out to actually see if he can raise to the international level.
    3) Ream – Solid defensively. Has good positional awareness & distribution. Lacks the speed you’d like to see on an outside back. Limited attacking threat.
    4) Shea – Questionable positional awareness and bound to make a bone headed play at least once per game. Good technical ability. Has the speed and attacking skills we’d want.
    5) Lichaj – Good speed, positional awareness, and grit. Limited going forward, but still more of an attacking threat than Ream.
    6) Castillo – Has all the tools to be a good LB (speed, technical ability, etc…) but seems to be to timid when he plays with the national team. Lacks a bit in defensive grit.
    7) Acosta/Payne – Both have the makings of good outside backs, but lack experience. This leads them to make poor decisions too often to really be considered at this time.
    8) Garza – Good technical player who adds to the attack. His lack of speed however is a huge problem, especially since he likes to join the attack. Add in his hip surgery and he may never recover enough to contend for a spot again.

    Taking Fabian out the equation…..To me the question of who is best at the position is dependent upon the formation and the opponent. If we need to grind out a win I’d probably go with Ream, Villafana, Shea….If we are going after the opponent than I’d go with Villafana, Shea, Lichaj.

    As a side note….If our wing options improve significantly (Pulisic, Gyau, Finlay, Bedoya, Zardes, Kiessewetter, etc…) and/or we transition into a 4-3-3 formation than I’d slot Fabian into the LB position. As the LB he’d still be able to make a lot of overlapping runs getting into the attack.

  7. Personally, I think Fabian’s excellent play for BM higher up the field should put to bed the debate about where he should play for the U.S. He is far too dynamic of an attacker to get stuck on defense. Our offense is stagnant ight now and he needs to be in a position to create and contribute on the attacking side.

    Happily, we are in a rare situation where we might have some depth at LB. Unproven depth, but depth nonetheless. I look forward to the competition between Brek, Castillo, and Villafana. It can only make our team better.

    • “Personally, I think Fabian’s excellent play for BM higher up the field should put to bed the debate about where he should play for the U.S. He is far too dynamic of an attacker to get stuck on defense. Our offense is stagnant ight now and he needs to be in a position to create and contribute on the attacking side.”

      your 1st and 3rd sentences kind of illustrate the management issue with fabian: you could play him at his best position, or you could play him at the team’s worst position. i’m still not sure what the best solution is, but it’s certainly not “put to bed” either way, especially since he’s proven to be nearly as effective an attacker even when lining up at fullback.

      • Considering our completely inept offense, I think it has been put to bed. He is a great attacking threat. Put him in the attack. I’m also not convinced that LB is our weakest position on the field anymore.

      • yes, he is a great attacking threat–whether lining up in midfield or as an overlapping fullback.

        sure, i guess you could say the conversation’s over, if you only mean until another player shows to be competent at winger (which could be in the next year, or not until the next decade). which is the point: just because it’s fabian’s best position, does it always make the best team to put him there?

        and i’m curious to hear which position you consider our weakest now. i’m guessing outside mid? my opinion is that we’re capable of playing a lot of formations that can offset the limitations of our wide mids (4-4-2 diamond, some defensive variations of a 4-3-3, 4-3-2-1, a defensive 4-2-3-1), but not too many that offset those of our fullbacks.

  8. This reminds me of Agudelo’s bicycle kick goal last season. He scores an amazing goal and now he’s a must for the NT, what did he do before or since (I know not many games because of the schedule). Shea had a great goal, but one goal does not a left back make. At least Shea is the starter for OFC, Agudelo is the third option for NE and people were screaming for his inclusion.

    • Shea did have 2 nice goals for the US last year as well. While scoring goals isn’t the primary job of a left back, it really comes down to what are the other options. Left back is a position of issue for the national team.

      • Yes but over the last four seasons he’s played in 28 games. Injuries and club choice has stunted his development and switching positions, he was a forward on 2012 U23 team. Let’s see if he can really play left back for more than 3 or 4 games in a row before we slot him in.

        And by the way he scored 0 club goals in that time too, before last weekend his last club goal in any competition was April 28, 2012. That was so long ago David Beckham and Landon Donovan were in the line up for the Galaxy that night.

        He’s certainly worth following and with the lack of quality at LB (which is why he made the switch to LB) its worth a friendly or two. I’m just saying lets not over hype one goal.

  9. I want to see the US be a little more bold, even if it cost us. It’s not like playing 4 center backs across the back and Yedlin at right wing is working so well for us either. I don’t even really care if we crash out of Copa America if we just show some guts and go for it.

  10. Still thumping the tub for Jordan Harvey to get a look. As good of a left back in MLS as there is. Scores about 5 goals per season. Not versatile like Brad Evans, but a better option at LB than Evans was and he was serviceable. Gets forward very well. Positionally sound. Speed about the same as Evans– not great, not bad. I could see him as a guy who would add depth and allow us to keep Fabian Johnson in midfield if the LB position gets depleted.

    I wouldn’t try him in Copa, but let’s see if he looks out of his depth in friendlies or against TNT or St. Vincent (especially if USA looks to have clinched qualification.)

    • or Tierney on NE. He can send in a great cross. maybe a little too one sided.

      Ream and Villafana probably the best LB defenders, Castillo and Shea better attackers.

  11. Watched the game, saw the goal. Awesome. No surprise, Brek is quite capable of plays like that. I WANT him to be the guy, but for 6 years or whatever its been, seems as far as the NT goes, it’s mostly been just that- left wanting. Maybe t’s only because he’s the shiny new toy of the moment and had much less opportunity to disappoint me but, I am much more impressed and hopeful for Villain who seems perhaps less spectacular but way more steady. I can’t help but imagine he and Johnson interchanging on the left side. All that said, I really do hope Shea finds some surge of health and killer instinct motivation and proves my apathy/skepticism wrong.

  12. Aaron Cranford must read the comment sections as I gave Shea my full endorsement as LB of the future last week. He’s the only option that makes sense to me right now. Ream is a good option as a stop gap, but doesn’t give you the ability going forward that Klinsmann wants in his fullbacks. Guys like Garza or Castillo cannot play at the international level. Johnson may be better off in midfield where he has scored 6 goals in Bundesliga play. I won’t mention Lichaj who Klinsmann won’t call up. Other options are untested in the player pool.

  13. We don’t have the firepower offensively to compensate for a leaky defense. I’d much rather see someone who is limited in attack and more solid defensively than the opposite which makes me partial to someone like Tim Ream. This is especially true with Yedlin looking like the favorite to occupy the RB position. These choices highlight the continued weakness of the left back position in our pool.

    • In International terms that just means you die slow.

      We beat Germany and Netherlands back-to-back – on their home soil, no less – in back-to-back friendlies last year…which everyone then forgot about because we then turned around and completely laid an egg in the Gold Cup. But while both games were high-scoring, cardiac-inducing affairs…we also WON them and we were in a position to win them because despite our leakiness at the back we had plenty of dynamic attacking players going forward…and we were also in a 4-3-3 and were COMMITTED to getting after them.

      At this point in the USA’s development as a soccer nation, pragmatism be durned. This is a game. Have fun playing it, get after it…and ENTERTAIN us, durnit. Nothing I hate more than an excrutiating 0-1 loss that feels like a 0-10 loss because the other team had 75% possession and 20 shots to our 2 because we were just bunkered in trying to keep the score respectable.

      • It’s possible to do both at times depending on circumstance, and if the players are prepped correctly. For instance, attack up our right side with Yedlin overlapping a pinched-in outside mid, while staying home more on our left side with a smart defender like Ream. Taking into account the personnel of the opposition of course.

        As for Shea, he has always had the physical tools. If he is settling into a leftback role in Orlando, its worth a look for the nats.

    • idk if playing Fabian at LB should be an option anymore.. his game at the Rose Bowl, not playing in the March qualifiers.. i know they claim there were minor but enough of an injury in both instances but I think he is not interested in playing LB for the USMNT. I would rather have a motivated and just as able defender like Shea, Castillo or Villafana at LB.

    • We need Fabian in the midfield. We just don’t have other options as good as him. I mean we’ve been playing Zardes there.

  14. Shea is not the answer to anything! Guy scores one goal and we want him back in the National team. Mediocre at best. I would prefer, Garza, Villafana or Lichaj.

    • And clearly you know nothing about soccer at all with stupid comments like that…. We have no one other than Villa and FabJo that come anywhere close to Shea at LB right now… clearly Klinsy wans to FabJo at LB and clearly he has no plans of calling in Villa (I agree Villa over Shea at LB and Shea is on of my favorite US players).

      So if he sees FabJo as LM/LW and doesn’t plan to call Villa how in the hell do you say he is not the answer? Are you seriously more comfortable with Ream, Castillo, Orozco, or Garza (who we haven’t seen in like 3 years lol)… Just dumb man…. Hating just to Hate, it’s okay, the world needs knuckleheads like you though…. evens things out lol

  15. I like Shea and he’s fun to watch, but I’ll forever compare him to a horse on ice. There’s going to be moments of brilliance and grace along with moments of sheer stupidity.

    Not sure that’s what you want at the international level.

  16. Villafana. Dude’s been at a higher level injury free for quite some time. Hard to believe Shea would get a look right now before Villafana. But then Castillo gets a start and hasn’t played in ages.

    • I think JK was giving Villafana a break, remember he played in the MLS Cup and then less than a month later he was starting the Liga Mx season with training in between. He’s basically been in season since last March. Even the most negative of the doom sayers didn’t really think we would lose to Guatemala, so why not give him a week off. I think we’ll see him in May or he may give him the Summer and we’ll see him this fall if his form continues.

  17. I’ve never been much of a Brek Shea supporter but shifting him to left back makes quite a bit of sense and giving him another look there at some point also makes sense. Shea has just been such a head case that it’s difficult to fully trust him with defensive duties especially with the rest of the back line struggling with consistency. I’d still like to see Jorge Villafaña get a run out. Also,I know he’s struggle of late because of injuries but I always thought Greg Garza looked very promising. I hope he finds form and can compete for the job.

    • Garza (another Texas boy, so i want to like him!) is just too slow. Ireland, yes IRELAND, burned him up and down the field.

      • Totally agree! I’m puzzled that many fans call for Greg Garza who is technically okay but too slow on international level. Speedy wingers will burn every time.

      • Everyone has a bad game now and then. Garza almost scored in that match so he wasn’t totally without merit. JK had called him in for the confed cup playoff only to have him suffer a hip injury.

      • Totally agree! I’m puzzled that many fans call for Greg Garza who is technically okay but too slow on international level. Speedy wingers will burn every time.

        Back-up QB syndrome. The player not called up is always the answer we’re missing (until they’re called up and people say: “Oh. Right.” see Sacha Kljestan)

    • Both Garza and Villafana lack international speed to recover and stretch the field. Both Garza and Jorge can hold possession in the final third but offer minimal threat to score. Physically Villafana would get beat up against S.American and Euro World Cup talent. Jorge plays each game with a huge heart and would never back down from a challenge but eventually the cream rises to the top.
      All the speculating is good for sh*ts and giggles but being accountable on the pitch is where performances matter. Shea scores a goal of the week and all of a sudden is “the guy” at LB? He should have been “the guy” for years but he is not accountable in so many ways besides his performances. Shea has a left foot and it will always give him a chance!

  18. I just want to see the ifs turn into haves. Instead of “if Shea can become consistent, if Shea can improve at defending, if Shea can stay healthy” I want “Shea has (all of the above)”. Stop letting us down Brek.

  19. I really really want him to be the starting LB too (mainly so Fabian can play in midfield), but let’s give him a few more weeks in MLS before we start calling for him to be the starter. I still worry he is a bit awkward/gangly defensively against quick attackers, but I hope he proves me wrong! Get em, Brek.

  20. If you have an in-form Yedlin and Shea as your outside backs, you at minimum force the other team to account for the consistent possibility that both players will join the attack and create problems on the wings. That versatility would do wonders for the squad, I think.

    • I think it would be great to see, in my opinion the US is at its best (even against superior competition) when we press high and get forward, even if that means a little risk in the back. They both have the speed to recover. It could be even better if Cameron moves to a 6. If one or both are caught up you have Cameron and what we would hope to be two Solid CBs sitting in the back, Brooks/Miazga/Besler/Birnbaum/CCV.

      • Ya, that’s the key I think. Klinsy needs to stick with a pure defensive mid sitting in front of the back line. Let Shea/Fabian/Yedlin attack and have cover to help break up the counter.

    • Actually, what impresses me the most about Shea at LB is that he doesn’t take a ton of risks. He’ll definitely get forward here and there, but he stays at home a lot too, and his defensive positioning is generally pretty sound. People who haven’t seen him play a whole lot at LB might be surprised by how balanced his LB play is – he’s not constantly bombing forward and taking risks, and he’s not a bad defender.

      • And……….. contrary to what sometimes seems a popular opinion, a goal scored on his same side of the field as a FB going forward doesn’t automartically make it his bad. It is quite possible to make a sound decision to attack and be let down by a lack of cover and/or a bad turnover by someone else.

      • Dalo- spot on sir. Exactly what I said when I watched the provided video above. There were 3 Portland players in the screen and 6 defenders yet some how it was breks fault for an almost goal? Please. He was marking the higher man. The lcb had the wide player covered and two cbs marking the lone striker. But I guess journalists have to fit square pegs in round holes just to make an article longer?…

    • People have short memories. Chile 3, USA 2, both Yedlin and Shea started. There is also that disaster of a Gold Cup Shea has to prove is a fluke and not a reflection of his ability to handle international game pressure.

      • I would head the opposite direction and find people who can defend. I think defensively challenged players like Shea, Castillo, Yedlin, et al. should be wing mid subs, not people with defensive responsibilities.

      • It could be that it is better that F Johnson plays LB and Shea plays left wing. Or we find a good LB, or maybe Shea will improve. There is still a lot of time until the Hex and then the World cup.

      • The “but every position has defensive responsibilities” argument is over-determined. So what. Whether a defender can play defense is even more important than anywhere else.

        People keep watching the US backline give up goals, we basically decide they need to try different people, but when we suggest who should be tried, often enough the proposed people are even worse defenders than those they would replace.

        So how about, as a starting point, trying to find four defenders who can actually play defense? Then we can work on finding people in that subset who can also get forward and cross well. But the problem I see is when we have moments where we can change defensive personnel to improve the leaking GA, the “get forward” bunch hijacks it and we continue to leak goals to even weak teams.

    • 3-5-2 has always made sense to me with our proclivity of Wings that double as mids and defenders… Let FJ and Yedlin run the lines and bring in Brek for one of them after 60 min… Let Bradley, Nagbe, and Willams (or any other combination of mids with Bradley) play a triangle in the middle. That kind of set up seems to play to our talent pool and provides strong connections between our back line and front players.



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