Jurgen Klinsmann is ready to give Brek Shea another chance.
While it’s still somewhat incredible to think that Shea’s call-up to the 23-man camp ahead of a high-stakes US-Mexico friendly on Wednesday at Estadio Azteca would be a surprise, that’s exactly how it went down on Sunday.
Shea’s inclusion in a group that includes newcomers Matt Besler and Steven Beitashour and ageless veteran DaMarcus Beasley was arguably the biggest head scratcher of them all. That is, until Klinsmann himself went to the mat for the player who was hand-picked as the US’ rising star last summer before he fell precipitously in the pecking order this year.
The call-up is Shea’s first since the US’ win in Italy in February, long before he missed three games for kicking a ball at an MLS linesman in May and another two for questioning FC Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman for substituting him from a game last month.
It’s also his latest chance to prove what Klinsmann all but insisted every chance he could beginning when he took over as head coach last summer: If he can take it on, Shea will take US Soccer by storm.
“I’ve had good conversations over the last few weeks with Schellas Hyndman, and we both see a lot of upside in Brek Shea,” Klinsmann said Sunday. “We all knew that after the big disappointment for not qualifying for the Olympics, that our youngsters … they would eventually fall into a hole. They would go through emotional roller coasters. And this is what happened with Brek.”
Shea and the US Olympic qualifying team bowed out of the group stages in March, and Shea’s been stuck in a surprising career rut ever since. A year after he was a finalist for the MLS MVP, a sudden mainstay on the left wing of Klinsmann’s starting lineup and a rumored target for Arsenal, he made headlines for his transgressions as much as his talent. He drew a suspension for plunking a linesman in the midsection with a ball and then flared up during an incident with Hyndman that left some wondering if the coach had seen enough of a seemingly petulant star.
All the while he fell off Klinsmann’s radar too, failing to get called into camp for five US games this summer, including two World Cup qualifiers that he would have been considered a shoo-in for just six months ago.
“He didn’t have himself under control in some circumstances,” Klinsmann said. “He thought he was further than he actually is. People maybe are feeding him information that he’s already there, which he’s not.”
Still, there was Klinsmann on Sunday extending the olive branch again to Shea, who notched his first assist of the season in a draw against Portland last weekend while clocking his first 90-minute shift in nearly a month. He logged another 90 minutes on Saturday night in a 3-2 win over Colorado.
“He needs our support and the feeling that we’re also there when things are getting tough,” Klinsmann said. “And things got tough for him. This whole generation that should have been in London the last two weeks, that was a tough pill to swallow for them. And now we’re at a point where we say we have to integrate those players into our plans, and give them playing time and possibilities to be close to the international level and the senior national team.”
Despite the second chance, Shea’s not on firm ground just yet. The group called in for the Mexico game is most talented in the midfield, and Pachuca midfielder Jose Torres is in form and has been used on the left flank before. There’s no sure indication this time around that Shea, who notched an assist against Mexico during much happier times in a 1-1 draw last summer, is quite the man he once was in Klinsmann’s camp, and there’s work to do.
“He has to learn to focus in, he has to learn to become a full professional, 24-7,” Klinsmann said. “He has to learn that the highest priority is what you deliver on the field. He has to learn how to live off the field, and he is in the middle of that process. We coaches are responsible to help him in that process.
“We are happy to have him back and we’ll have a couple good talks over a few coffees,” Klinsmann added, “and then he has to take of it once he gets back into Dallas once again and improve on a daily basis.”