Brek Shea scores Whitecaps winner in emotional return to Orlando

ORLANDO, Fla.- Carl Robinson paid tribute to Brek Shea’s “respect and character” after Vancouver Whitecaps FC's pre-season pickup from Orlando City SC helped them to all three points on a frenetic first return to his former team.

Shea found himself with the Whitecaps in an unexpected February switch for Giles Barnes and, after notching the game-winner against the team that brought him back to MLS in 2015, he earned many of the plaudits from his head coach.

“It was a wonderful finish, and I think he scored against his best mate in goal,” Robinson said. “Brek had unbelievable respect for Orlando [in not celebrating the goal], and I give him a lot of credit for that. That shows his character, but I’m just delighted that I’ve got him, and we’ll keep him for a good while.”

Shea’s third goal of the season put a much-changed Vancouver lineup ahead, 2-0, before Orlando’s late bid to keep their playoff hopes alive came up just short after Cyle Larin’s 62nd-minute strike was all the home side could muster for 72.5 percent possession dominance.

It left Robinson to give thanks for the move that brought Shea to Canada, and showed that the payoff is only just beginning.

“Right now it looks like a great trade,” Robinson said. “I love Giles to bits and I’ve known him for years, but we had the issue with the turf, and he’s more of a hot-weather player, so I just felt that with Brek, an international player who’s played nearly 40 times for his country, with a fresh challenge, his quality would come out.

“My goalkeeping coach Stewart Kerr, who knew him from Orlando, had said Brek’s one of the best professionals he’s seen, but he just needed a bit of confidence. I know I’m a players’ coach and I get the best out of my players. I knew I could give that to Brek and that’s what we saw today.”

Shea came out to a huge reception from the home fans, as well as a hug from Orlando skipper Kaká, and he admitted it was an emotional evening.

“I was just overwhelmed,” he said. “I respect the fans here and I hope they respect me. This is a place where I was only at for two years but it feels like forever. I just love the fans, and the city, and the organization. It sucked that I left, but I’m in a new home and I’m happy.

“I play to score and to win. I was just happy to get a goal and to help my team to victory. I just take it game by game, as the team does. Obviously we want to make the playoffs and we’ll go from there. We’ve had three hard games [in a week] and I think we got a result in each one, so [that deserves] a big shoutout to the staff and players.”

Robinson was also relieved his big gamble on making wholesale changes from the midweek draw with Seattle paid off in Florida with a backs-to-the-wall effort.

“Obviously we played Wednesday night and I made nine changes tonight, based on all the travel and the energy levels,” he explained. “When you make changes and you win, it’s the right decision and you’re a tactical genius. When you don’t, you get questions on why you made so many changes.

“But when I saw their team sheet and saw the unbelievable quality they have, even on the bench, I knew it was going to be a battle, and that’s what I said to the guys before the game. Obviously the longer you stay in the game, you get your chances. We work on free-kicks regularly and so we got our noses in front, withstood some pressure and then, as the game got stretched, we had chance after chance. We got the second, probably should have had a third or fourth, but we defended like Trojans tonight.”