ORLANDO, Fla. – The world of Dane Brekken Shea is both simple and complex; free-spirited and team-focused; relaxed and intense. For the first time in recent memory, that world is also injury free.
There were the pair of offseason surgeries to remove a bone in his foot following the 2012 season, operations that meant his first months in the English Premier League following a January move from FC Dallas to Stoke City were lost to rehab. He was back on the field for the Gold Cup that summer, scoring the game-winner in the final, before spraining his MCL in the Potters final preseason game.
Loan moves to Barnsley and Birmingham followed, neither of which were enough to push him into the 2014 World Cup team, before Orlando City SC made the Texan one of their marquee signings ahead of their 2015 expansion season. Then, in June, hernia surgery derailed his fresh start. He missed the Gold Cup and only returned to the Lions starting lineup in late September.
“There is a frustration factor there,” Shea admits. “I haven’t had a full year without being injured for a while. I don’t think I have been plagued by injuries as such, but I have had an injury here, an injury there, as far as I can remember. So, for me, the biggest key to this year is staying injury-free … I am just trying to do everything I can on and off the field to stop being injured.”
In doing so, Shea hopes he can help lead Orlando City to their first-ever MLS Cup Playoff appearance as well as reinvigorate his US national team career in time to be chosen for this summer’s Copa America Centenario.
“There is always pressure,” Shea says, “but, in my mind, there is no doubt if I’m healthy and playing week in and week out, then I’ll be there. I don’t think anyone can take it from me.”
Away from the field, Shea remains an enigmatic, almost Bohemian figure. He turned up for his pre-season physical at Orlando Health in baggy, luminous green pants, and his hair-length has more in common with surfer dude chic than any soccer style. For the opening game of the season, he sported cornrows and a ponytail, and he followed up with a video on Instagram of driving a golf-cart with his daughter Phoenix, born last September.
And while he’s as focused and committed to his career as ever ahead of a massive year, both personally and collectively, Shea admits the new addition to his household brings with it welcome perspective.
“Right now, it is all about my kid,” he says. “When I get away from the game, it is to get completely away from it so that you enjoy it that much more when you come back to it. My lifestyle outside soccer is very different. The fact is I don’t even watch soccer a lot of the time, so that when I come back I have a sense of enjoyment and feel fresh.”
Shea’s softer side comes out at first mention of baby Phoenix, but Orlando fans need not worry about his priorities ahead of Friday’s trip to expansion rivals New York City FC (7 pm ET, UniMás), as the Lions seek their first win of the new campaign.
With Antonio Nocerino now firmly slotted into the midfield role, Brek is back to the attacking left back role that both Orlando head coach Adrian Heath and Klinsmann believe he is best suited for.
“We just need to finish out a game at the moment,” Shea says. “I think the first two games we’ve been the better team by far; we’ve had more chances, more possession, we just haven’t got the three points. We have to be focused for 90 minutes plus. Obviously, [NYCFC] have some good players and we’re playing away for the first time this season, but if we continue to play the way we have been and not make the silly mistakes, we’ll be alright.
“They’re obviously trying out a new formation, with a new coach, so they’re still learning their new shape. I don’t think they are far ahead and have progressed as much as we have; I think we’re more of a team and they are more about the individuals, so we have to try to take advantage of that.”