CHICAGO – Brek Shea wasn't supposed to be on the United States' Gold Cup team a few weeks ago, and he could have been sent packing after the group stage to join preseason with Stoke City, where he struggled to gain a foothold last year after joining the team with an injury.
But he stayed, and that turned out to be a very good decision by Jurgen Klinsmann.
Shea capped off a topsy-turvy tournament by scoring the game-winning goal in Sunday’s final just one minute after he entered the match, and his play up the left side pumped life into the US attack in an eventual 1-0 championship-clinching victory over Panama.
“I'm proud of him,” captain DaMarcus Beasley told reporters afterward. “He's come on from his injury, he stuck around with us, he didn't go back to Stoke. So I'm very proud of him, the way he came in and played in this Gold Cup. We definitely needed him … You want to make a difference, and Brek did that to the fullest.”
Shea was erratic throughout the tournament, and he made a few mistakes in the offensive third that cost the US scoring chances.
But his tap-in goal, which made him the second-youngest goalscorer in a Gold Cup final, and his two pinpoint crosses to Eddie Johnson that almost sealed the championship for the US were enough to earn plenty of praise postgame.
In a way, Shea's unpredictability is why Klinsmann wanted him to play in Sunday's game.
“I think that element with Brek, coming in and taking people on and having a surprising element in his game, I think every opponent would feel that,” Klinsmann said. “As a coach, you think, if you do something now, what would an opponent feel from your end. And you see a guy like Brek, [he's] unpredictable, for himself and for the opponent.”
Shea will return to Stoke after scoring two game-winning goals en route to a championship. And he'll go knowing that Klinsmann has faith in him.
The former FC Dallas star wouldn't praise his performance after the game, and he didn't seem like a man brimming with confidence. But his Gold Cup experience can only help him going forward.
“How good it went, it still went up and down,” he told reporters. “I still had good times, bad times. But the team was great the whole time.”
Shea's promise has never been in doubt, and Klinsmann seems to think he has the drive to realize it. But earning playing time with Stoke will certainly go a long way toward deciding his national team future in the short-term.
The USMNT coach hopes this tournament will spur him toward making that progress.
“He knows that he has a way to go, he knows that he has to fight for his spot at Stoke, which he will do from tomorrow on,” Klinsmann said. “But he has this hunger and he has this willingness to learn.”