It’s back on again, according to the latest reports. FC Dallas winger Brek Shea, previously confirmed to be on his way to Europe, looks set to join Stoke City provided everything checks out during a Tuesday physical. Given Shea’s coming off foot surgery, there are no guarantees, but if both sides did think the 22-year-old would get the doctor’s thumbs, they wouldn’t have bothered having him go to England. This looks like it’s getting done.
It’s a huge turnaround for a transfer that looked dead last week. After negotiations between Stoke and Major League Soccer fell apart, Potters’ manager Tony Pulis said a deal was unlikely to be worked out until summer. Fans were left wondering where things fell apart and why the two sides couldn’t find a middle ground.
Now that all looks like posturing. According to reports, the final price is in the $3.5-$4 million range, and while offseason foot surgery initially had Stoke wanting Shea to complete a trial before a deal was finalized, now the Potters are willing to buy without the test drive.
If goes on Tuesday, Shea will join fellow national team members Geoff Cameron and Maurice Edu in a growing American enclave on Trent. Those two Americans, both acquired in the summer window, have experienced drastically different debut seasons with Stoke. Geoff Cameron has become a regular at right back while Maurice Edu has only appeared in one league match.
Shea’s purchase looks like more of a long-term move. The Potters already have Matthew Etherington and Michael Knightly starting at left wing in Pulis’s 4-4-2 formation. Given those options, Shea’s unlikely to slot right in; however, still only 22 years old, Shea can afford a small adjustment period. Maybe that’s a few months training with the team. Maybe that’s a loan through the end of the season. Regardless, don’t be surprised if Shea doesn’t have Cameron’s immediate impact at the Britannia.
When he does acclimatize, Shea will offer a completely new dimension to Stoke’s left flank, something a stodgy Potters attack desperately needs. All of the clichéd words that have gone to describing the Potters’ shoddy displays are true, partially because they don’t have enough players like Shea – players who can actually compete in what that doesn’t exhaust our synonyms for “dour.” Stoke is last in the Premier League in shots per game, have the second-lowest rate of possession and pass competition percentage, and have scored only nine open play goals in 23 games. Only one team has played fewer short passes this season.
Whether Shea can change that or not, he does at least offer a way for Pulis to change things up. He may not be as quick as Etherington, but Shea might be faster in terms of raw speed. He’s bigger, more athletic, and offers more going toward goal. He’ll have to improve his the consistency of his crossing, and Stoke’s philosophy demands a lot of defensive accountability from its wingers, but if he ever cracks Tony Pulis’s XI, he could help shake up an approach that leans too heavily on its forwards for goals and has too few players who can offer something unexpected.
But all that assumes the 2011 Brek Shea shows up. That was the year Shea came into his own and played like one of the best players in Major League Soccer. Last year, however, was a huge step back. It would have been a completely lost season if it wasn’t such a learning experience. Clashing with his coach while scoring only three times in 21 games, Shea was humbled. The season blunted a career trajectory that surged after a 11-goal, 4-assist 2011.
That backslide shows Shea needed to go. The best case scenario for another year in Major League Soccer would have been a replay of 2011. That would have been nice and Dallas may have been one of the better teams in the West if that production augmented a comeback season from David Ferreira, but between the final round of World Cup Qualifying and this summer’s Gold Cup, Shea was more likely to be distracted than dominant at a point when he needs to be testing himself.
If he passes his physical on Tuesday, Shea will get that test, one all American soccer players dream of. At 22 years old, he is about to make the jump to England, this first major accomplishment in the still young career of a Texan star.