Best of 2011: Shea the US Breakout Player of 2012

With 2011 officially in the books, MLSsoccer.com's Best of 2011 spends the last day of the series looking forward to 2012.

Here, correspondent John Bolster looks into the future of the US national team, and explains why Brek Shea will be the Breakout Player of 2012.

Brek Shea accomplished so much as a dynamic, attacking winger in 2011, it’s easy to forget he began the season playing center back.

But it’s true: After a successful stint in that position during the 2010 Generation adidas tour of Spain, Shea started the 2011 MLS season in the middle of the FC Dallas defense, with coach Schellas Hyndman going so far as to say, “To me, he’s a better center back than he is a left-sided player.”

We may never know if Hyndman’s assertion is true, because soon after Dallas playmaker David Ferreira went down with a season-ending injury in April, Shea shifted back out to the left flank and promptly took over the reins on offense for FCD. The lanky, speedy Texan scored 11 goals, contended for the MVP award and solidified his standing with the US national team along the way.

Now, Shea is poised to do on the USMNT what he did in MLS in 2011: Break out in a big way.

The laid-back 21-year-old with an aversion to “normal haircuts” actually debuted for the US in October 2010 under coach Bob Bradley — but apart from the fact that the appearance made him the first player born in the 1990s to play for the full national team, it was a forgettable 45 minutes.

His second cap the following January, against Chile, was much more promising, and in seven appearances under new coach Jurgen Klinsmann, Shea has been consistently effective. He notched his first assist in August against Mexico, doing some excellent work before squaring the ball for Robbie Rogers to tap into an empty net. He should have had his first international goal in October, but missed a sitter against Honduras.

Apart from that flub, though, Shea has shined in a US shirt, and following a friendly against Ecuador three days after the Honduras game, Klinsmann said the winger had “secured his spot in the starting lineup.”

But even after one of the most taxing individual seasons in recent memory (Shea played in nearly 50 games this year combined for club and country), he didn’t sit back and reflect on his accomplishments. Instead, he signed on for a training stint with Premier League power Arsenal.

Consider it woodshedding for a bigger and better 2012.

2. José Francisco Torres

Before being sidelined by a foot injury this past fall, the Pachuca midfielder looked sharp in two appearances for the US, pulling strings in attack in a 1-1 draw with Mexico and a 1-0 loss to Costa Rica. “He is definitely a player who we will build over the next months and years to go,” said Klinsmann.

3. Kyle Beckerman

Much like Shea, Beckerman had a long season filled with extra games and the adjustment of losing a top playmaker (RSL’s Javier Morales). Also like Shea, he seized the opportunities in front of him, playing his way into a regular role in Klinsmann’s midfield. He’ll be hungry to cement his spot next year.

WATCH: Firchau, Borg, and Lalas on Shea