Brek Shea and Giles Barnes were both in need of a change of scenery, and both big-name players received that on Saturday night as Orlando City and the Vancouver Whitecaps swapped the players in a blockbuster trade just one week before the regular season was set to begin.
Shea’s career in Orlando started strong under Adrian Heath, but injuries combined with a regime change in central Florida led to less playing time for the former Stoke City and FC Dallas man toward the back end of the 2016 season.
Barnes was an outcast in Houston last summer after Owen Coyle and the Dynamo agreed to part ways. The former Derby County man played in 10 matches after being shipped to Vancouver, but he failed to contribute in a significant fashion with two goals and one assist for the Canadian club.
The needs of both teams changed over the offseason and both players were deemed as expendable pieces by Jason Kreis in Orlando and Carl Robinson in Vancouver. As rough as it may be for a player to be traded one week before the regular season starts, the deal could end up benefiting both parties.
Shea fills a more immediate need in British Columbia as the Whitecaps look to make a push deep into the CONCACAF Champions League. In order to do that, Robinson’s men needed someone to fill in on the wing with an injury crisis in midfield. Christian Bolanos, Nicolas Mezquida and Yordy Reyna all are injured and Alphonso Davies may not have the big-game experience required to give the Whitecaps a push past more experienced clubs.
Shea, the owner of 34 USMNT caps, should fill in on the wing for the Whitecaps as early as Thursday’s second leg with the New York Red Bulls. The 26-year-old previously featured at left back for Orlando City, but the Whitecaps have some stability at fullback with Jordan Harvey, Sheanon Williams and rookie Jakob Nerwinski.
The presence of Shea on the wing will move Kekuta Manneh into a more central role, which is not a new spot on the field for the burgeoning USMNT prospect. Manneh started in the middle of a 4-2-3-1 at Red Bull Arena last week flanked by Davies and Cristian Techera. The focus on Shea’s impact is on the short term because of the Whitecaps’ situation, but the club will benefit long term as well once he forms a chemistry with the attacking midfielders and newly-acquired forward Fredy Montero.
Because he played for a struggling Houston team for five years, people forget that Barnes scored 11 goals back in 2014, and he knocked seven strikes into the back of the net in 2015. The 28-year-old is more than just a serviceable forward in the right situation, and both he and the Orlando brass hope another double-digit goal season is in the cards this year.
If that is the case, the Lions will have a second solid scorer in the lineup alongside Cyle Larin. Of course, Barnes’ primary objective on the pitch won’t be scoring, it will be about filling a role in Kreis’ 4-4-2 system that could have a diamond aspect to it. Barnes fits a few different roles on the field in Orlando’s new formation. He could play out wide, up top as the second striker or he could even slide into the attacking tip of the diamond if need be.
Playing with another skilled forward is not out of the ordinary for Barnes, as he partnered Will Bruin for years in Houston. At their best, Barnes and Bruin both scored over 10 goals during the 2014 campaign, and they combined for 18 in the 2015 season before things went south last season in Houston.
Orlando is in need of securing a postseason berth in its third year, its first at Orlando City Stadium, in the difficult Eastern Conference. Having two consistent scoring threats on the field along with Kaka and Carlos Rivas could wreak havoc on any opponent, no matter how stout its defense may be.
Although the timing of the trade may not be ideal for the parties involved, Shea and Barnes are both heading to clubs that are in need of their services, and it could lead to successful seasons for both players in 2017.