It had been 550 days since Brek Shea scored an international goal for his country. The national team had played 2,008 minutes, with or without him – mostly without him.
So when Brek Shea ripped home a “lashed-in bullet” from a tight angle to open the scoring against Chile in the sixth minute of their January friendly, the moment took over. Brek covered his face with his hand and celebrated like it meant the world to him.
Because it did. In that moment, Brek’s entire lifestyle came together in one big personal achievement that marked the culmination of years of hard work on and off the field.
SHEA RETURNS IN STYLE
“When I do it on the field it has a personal meaning for my career and my comeback after struggling in England. That’s what it stands for to me.” -Brek Shea
Brek had struggled to find the field in all facets of his career, not just under Jurgen Klinsmann. His on-again, off-again club journey has been well documented in the United States. A tumultuous two-year journey to England was ambitious but also a struggle. He managed just three Premier League appearances with Stoke City and 14 more in the Championship during loan spells at Barnsley and Birmingham City that both ended abruptly.
Those struggles understandably translated to a significant drop in national team appearances. He was a mainstay on the 2013 Gold Cup squad, appearing in every match during the tournament and scoring the winner during the final after coming on as a substitute. But following his Gold Cup heroics, Shea appeared in just four matches over the course of the next year and a half.
Then came his January start. It’s clear that his move to Orlando City has reignited his national team career. Earning a full 90 minutes against Chile in the beginning of a busy early 2015 for the United States, Brek exploded back onto the scene with his sixth minute goal. But that wasn’t all. He performed like the Brek Shea of old, bursting forward to provide an attacking threat while actually providing a capable defensive structure – the most common criticism against his ability to play left-back.
Brek Shea is back.
“I was really humbled to see a member of the American team doing one of my moves.” -Alec Monopoly
Soccer is just a part of Brek Shea’s fascinating world. The 25-year-old Texas native has a number of passions that occupy his time when he’s not on the field.
One of those passions is art. The other is shoes. The combination of the two led Brek to discover a symbol he would display to the world on that evening at Estadio El Teniente.
Brek has been covering his face in photos for a while on his Instagram page, and he displayed the gesture to a national audience when he gave the US a 1-0 lead early. But the goal celebration isn’t his own, it’s a tribute to a friend he greatly respects, an artist named Alec Monopoly.
“I try to be an artist in my off time and my free time, so I obviously have artists I really like and their style and what they do,” Brek said. “He’s one of my favorite artists, and I kind of picked up on his hand thing and how he hides face. He obviously has his reasons why he does it, and I kind of took it and spun it and have my reasons why I do it.”
Alec is a graffiti artist who began on the streets of New York developing his skills and keeping away from police all at the same time. For a graffiti artist displaying a talent that Alec describes as “super illegal,” an artist’s identity is his life. To keep his hidden, Alec began concealing the lower half of his face in photographs by facing away from the camera, wearing a mask, or by simply covering his face with his hand. To keep his real name hidden, Alec developed his pseudonym from his repeated depictions of the board game Monopoly, mostly the game’s mascot Rich Uncle Pennybags.
Years removed from his start on the streets and now a nationally renowned bigtime artist, Alec’s work sells for thousands of dollars, and he has art displayed in the houses of celebrities like Miley Cyrus and Snoop Dogg. But he’s never forgotten his roots. “All the celebrities, that stuff doesn’t really matter to me, all I care about is art and graffiti,” Alec said. “But something like this happening [Brek’s celebration], I was really taken back by it.”
Alec still never shows his face in pictures, allowing him to remain somewhat anonymous to the public. But he and Brek connected over another love: shoes.
“We were connected through Del Toro Shoes, ” Brek said. “I’m a shoe fanatic, and I’m a big fan of Del Toro Shoes. I have Alec’s personal shoe that he designed through Del Toro.” Alec echoed that sentiment, saying he thinks Brek “has bought every single pair they make.”
CONTINUING TO GROW
“In the years I haven’t been playing, I had a rough time with injuries and playing time. So now that I’m back playing every week in MLS and back with the national team, it was kind of my thing where I knew if I scored, this is what I’m going to do.” -Brek Shea
Brek’s friendship with Alec is just beginning. Having borrowed Alec’s trademark move for his own personal touch, it clearly was more than a fleeting one-time display. Brek scored again just two months later against Switzerland, and again he covered his face.
The goal in Zurich gave Brek his fourth goal in his last 12 national team appearances, numbers one might expect from a striker. While those appearances are scattered across a nearly two year span, he’s always provided an attacking flair on the field. His defense was at times suspect, but that seems to have changed.
Against Denmark in March, Shea was a halftime substitute, and he was instrumental in the US maintaining a draw despite falling a man down with nearly a half-hour still to go. In both wins since, 2-0 victories over Panama and Mexico, Shea provided some attacking threat but mainly focused on his defensive duties, and he performed admirably, going largely unnoticed, a positive for a defender.
With his play on the field showing new life, so is his relationship with Alec. The two both have understandably busy lives and have yet to meet in person, but are in constant contact and hope to do so soon. And while Brek has expressed his love for Alec’s work, it goes both ways. “I love all sports, but I have a crazy schedule and I don’t follow [soccer] like crazy,” Alec said. “But obviously now I’m going to be the biggest follower ever [of the US national team].”
So Brek Shea is back. How long will depend on his ability to maintain a high level on the field, but at the moment, he seems to be a more permanent member of the ever-changing US roster while Klinsmann continues to experiment. And as always with Brek, he brings his all to the soccer field, including a colorful personality.