ORLANDO, Fla. –Brek Shea, this is your moment.
Okay, so Orlando City head coach Jason Kreis didn’t quite state the case as simply as that, but it is clear from the new head coach’s second full week in charge that Shea is being positioned to unleash his full potential.
Since returning to MLS with the Lions at the beginning of 2015 after an abortive year in the English Premier League with Stoke City, the 26-year-old US international has yo-yo’d between left back and left wing.
National team coach Jurgen Klinsmann penciled him firmly into his back four last year, and Orlando’s Adrian Heath dutifully followed suit. Despite originally making his mark with FC Dallas as an attacking left-sided midfielder, Shea seemed perfect for this new role as a marauding defender, and the early reviews were all positive.
But then City ran into injury problems mid-way through last season, Shea was switched back and forth from defense to midfield, and a sports hernia added to his woes and lack of consistency.
This year, he started back in that midfield role in the opening game against Real Salt Lake only to revert to full back again for the next 11 games. He alternated once more for the next two games, at which point, following the 4-0 defeat at Dallas, Heath parted company with the team.
Now, after returning Shea to the lineup as a half-time sub in midfield for last Sunday’s thrilling 3-1 win over New England, Kreis has made it crystal clear – Shea is an attacking force, first and foremost.
The head coach was both analytical and adamant as he reviewed Shea’s career after training on Wednesday, and he admitted he could understand the temptation to make him a defender.
“When Brek came out of the draft and when he was playing for the U-17 national team, I watched him and thought ‘Wow, what an exciting left back prospect that would be’,” Kreis explained. “I knew he would have to develop into that, but any coach would look at him, the physical abilities he has, and the ability to cover the ground, and they’d think ‘That would be an exciting attacking left back in our league.’
“But analyzing the games before I came here, I could see that was a big liability, and defensively, with the team where we’re at right now, we don’t have room for defensive liability.”
That stark statement puts an emphatic full point on Shea the Defender, at least barring a major injury epidemic. Luke Boden will be entrusted with the full back’s role for the foreseeable future, and his fellow left-footer will be pushed much further up the field.
“For me, it is about saying to [Brek], 'We’re going to play to your strength where it is right now, and that is in the attacking half of the field,'” Kreis said. “'We’re going to expect certain things defensively from you, but, when you do those things, you will get a free license to attack how you want to and where you want to.'
“And I think when we do that, we can get some creativity from him and really start to fulfill his potential.”
Kreis also reinforced the idea he will continue to deploy Shea on both flanks as he looks to exploit match-ups against opposing defenses, especially with Kevin Molino as the other interchangeable wide man in midfield.
“I think for sure we need to consider it,” the head coach added. “He had a pretty strong performance there [on the right] on Sunday. He was on the pitch for three goals for us and zero goals against us, so we need to look at more of that in future.”