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Shea it ain’t so, Brek!

Brek Shea will be missed in Dallas

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Brek Shea has been the face of FC Dallas the past two seasons, but now he plays for Stoke City.  I’m glad for Shea.  It’s always good to see American players get a shot in the perceived top league in the world.  But since I just bought an FC Dallas season ticket a few weeks ago, this is not welcome news.

I first saw Shea play in person in 2010, the season he made his first professional start and really came into his own for FC Dallas.  He almost immediately caught my eye as a special player.  It wasn’t just the flashy shock of ultra blonde hair.  He hustled his tail off and wasn’t afraid to run with the ball at opponents.  He had height, strength, speed, and all-important feistiness.  He could scoot around the edges and get passes across the box or get shots off when other players would have lost possession.  He spent that 2010 season under the radar and I shared FC Dallas fans’ pride of recognizing potential that the wider world hadn’t fully noticed yet.  I even called my younger brother and soccer confidant Dan to tell him about this Brek Shea and how he could be on the national team someday.

Shea and FC Dallas made it to their first and only MLS Cup Final in 2010 where they lost to Colorado.  By the start of 2011, the cat was out of the bag with Shea and opponents started marking him tightly.  It was a tougher season for him (and FC Dallas), yet he was still a standout and a finalist for the league’s MVP.  Buzz began building about him.  In the offseason, he got to train for a few weeks at Arsenal.  FC Dallas wisely signed him on through 2015.  By the start of last season, the media spotlight on Shea was blinding.  Even in Dallas he was becoming a household name (okay, still mostly just among us soccer nerds).  US National Team Coach Jurgen Klinsmann jumped on board the Brek train too, granting Shea several consecutive caps.

Then the 2012 MLS season got under way and Shea fizzled on field.  A turf toe injury sidelined him for several weeks.  I actually observed him up close as he was nearing recovery from that injury when he participated in a demonstration drill run by FC Dallas Head Coach Schellas Hyndman at Hyndman’s annual clinic for local coaches.  I was impressed and surprised that Shea turned up for the demo – something he certainly wasn’t obligated to do on such a hot May afternoon.  The demo was a mix of academy players and FC Dallas reserve players, but Shea played as hard as if he were trying to earn a starting spot.  Afterwards he affably hung around to chat with coaches and pose for photos.  He certainly didn’t appear too overwhelmed by stardom that day.

Shea continued struggling with injuries throughout 2012, but even when he was in the lineup he couldn’t recover his near-MVP form from 2011.  Fans grumbled impatiently.  Brek and Hyndman got into a spat on NBC when Hyndman benched him late during a contentious match at San Jose.  Shea the wonder boy suddenly seemed mentally and physically drained.

Now it looks like the business side of soccer has reared its necessary and sometimes ugly head with Dallas apparently eager to cash in on Stoke City’s interest in the 22-year-old Shea.  Shea was a rare rising star for Dallas, a real potential franchise player.  I had a feeling it would just be a matter of time before a bigger club snatched him up – Dallas is too small a club to retain stars for very long.  The only real surprise is why now?  Shea had such a dismal 2012 MLS season that I was confident he would be in Dallas at least through 2013.  I was really looking forward to this being a comeback season for Brek.

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I should have been suspicious when Zach Loyd began featuring a bit more than Shea in FC Dallas’ promotional efforts toward the end of last season.  Considering that and the rift between Hyndman and Shea, the writing has likely been on the wall for several months.  I wish Dallas would splash the Stoke cash they get for Shea on a replacement star, someone for season ticket holders like myself to get jazzed about.  But I won’t hold my breath.

It’s a catch-22 for American soccer fans when deals like this come along.  On one hand, you want to see U.S. players get opportunities in the world’s top league – it’s great for their development, enhances our national team, and improves American soccer’s reputation.  On the other hand it highlights where MLS falls in the pecking order of the world’s soccer leagues.  It seems difficult enough (particularly in a market like Dallas) to get fans to support MLS teams that actually have an American star or two, much less when those stars get shipped to more prestigious European leagues.

I wish Shea all the best at Stoke City.  This FC Dallas fan will definitely miss him.

Your thoughts on Shea’s transfer to Stoke City?

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Opening Weekend Blues

It’s hard not to be disappointed by Chelsea’s 1 – 1 draw at Stoke

Logically, we shouldn’t worry about a draw on opening day.  It doesn’t mean all that much with so many fixtures ahead.  There are sure to be more disappointing draws and even losses this season.  But it’s hard for fans to keep that perspective.  It’s hard because you’ve waited all summer with such anticipation and buildup.  And then the first game finally arrives – Chelsea looking all shiny in their snazzy blues, AVB looking all svelte and sixties-ish with his black Chelsea-badged suit and skinny tie.  And then the team plays mostly like the team we suffered with last year.  You know, the one that perpetually schools teams in possession and scoring ops, but can’t find the back of the net.

Drawing against Stoke City is not the end of the world of course.  It’s just that after such a positive preseason I was hoping for a real opening game statement.  Something that would suck the wind out of the Man U/Man City sails.  Instead, Chelsea’s already two points back in the title race.  Here’s hoping we get our big statement win against West Brom on Saturday… and that the Manchesters lose of course.

Was the Stoke game cause for concern for Chelsea?

Chelsea @ Malaysia XI

1-0 Chelsea win leaves much to be desired from Blues

1st Half Highlights (or lowlights)/Commentary

-Good to see Bertrand and McEachran in the starting eleven.

-Chelsea played a 4-3-3 formation as preferred by Andre Villas-Boas at Porto.

-I’m unfamiliar with Slobodan Rajkovic in the back line (22-year-old).  Apparently he has European work permit issues so he’s getting a look during the Asia tour.

-2nd min:  Benayoun took a giveaway and gave great through-ball to Torres who slid a grounder right to the goalie.  Torres should’ve finished the golden opportunity.

-First third of the game was very sluggish possession-wise for Chelsea.  67 passes in first 12 minutes or so, but in small spurts, often broken up, with very little flow and only a couple chances from Benayoun passes.

-I’d like to see a little more aggressiveness and snap.  Manchester United and Real Madrid look sharper and hungrier for goals in their recent U.S. friendlies.

-17th min:  Bertrand hit cross from left that was mis-cleared, Kalou tapped it to Lampard who missed the goal badly.

-19th min:  Excellent through-ball from Kalou to Torres who couldn’t toe it in from a tough angle.

-Through first 20 minutes, Chelsea defense looked very calm and composed.  No real threats from Malaysia XI.

-Some impressive work from Bertrand passing and dribbling down left side.

-29th min:  Lampard free kick right on edge of box, but he smashed it off Malouda and out of play.

-Torres was static off the ball for much of the half.  Not encouraging.

-Chelsea looked pretty sloppy in the final third, which was a problem for much of last season.

-36th min:  Bosingwa threw an unusual mini-tantrum, throwing the ball away when he disagreed with a throw-in call.  A few minutes later Kalou protested when he was called for a clear hand-ball.  Both cases showed poor sportsmanship/professionalism from Chelsea, particularly for a friendly!  They should know better.

-37th min:  Patrick Van Aanholt replaced Bertrand at left back.  Not sure if it was planned, or if Bertrand was gassed.  Surprising move because Bertrand looked strong and confident.

-39th min:  Torres made one good move past a defender inside the left side of the box to get a shot off, but once again from a bad angle.

-With 40 minutes gone, one of the game commentators remarked that, “…preseason or not, [he is] exceptionally underwhelmed by Chelsea.  No real movement.  No real desire.”  I couldn’t have agreed with him more!

-42nd min:  Lampard missed another chance in the box, right in front of goal, after a quick succession of nice passes (though he looked to be barely offside anyway).

-45th min:  Great cross from Bosingwa but Torres barely missed getting his head on it and Benayoun’s resulting clean-up shot was blocked by a defender.

Summary:  While you can’t read too much into preseason matches, this was a very disappointing start from Chelsea.  You would expect that competition for playing spots would inspire more aggressiveness and spark from players trying to impress the manager.  Alas, there was very little energy or zip from the squad in the first half with the exceptions of Benayoun and Bertrand.

2nd Half

-An entirely new eleven started the second half.

-47th min:  Mikel made the kind of quality long-range shot that was missing in the first half.

-First 10 minutes of the second half Chelsea showed a bit more desire, but not many scoring chances to show for it.

-60th min:  Good initiative by Terry, taking a ball at midfield and rushing it forward.  Nice leading pass to Anelka who passed it back toward the middle, but a defender cleared it out.

-20 minutes into the second half I was getting restless.  It seemed every Chelsea pass was just out of reach, or intercepted, or headed away.  Far too many long balls.  Little build-up passing.  The initial hope brought on by the second half eleven began to fade.

-69th min:  Zhirkov free kick found Terry’s head but it went a couple feet over the crossbar.  At least Terry was showing some leadership with his aggressiveness.

-70th min:  Sturridge ran onto a ball, took it into the box and hit a nice low shot, but the GK made a great save.

-As usual, Drogba worked much harder off the ball than Torres.  He makes things happen.  He’s a troublemaker for defenses.  Hopefully Torres will learn from Drogba’s wily ways!

-78th min:  Drogba free kick outside left side of the box was a screamer that the goalkeeper barely got a hand on.  The ball bounced off the post, off the GK’s back, bounced on the line, and was ruled a goal by the linesman.  Replays clearly showed the ball did not cross the line.

-85th min:  Malaysia missed an easy goal after an unusual lapse in the middle of the Chelsea defense.

-Billy Clifford (midfielder), Mikel, and Anelka were invisible for the last 20 minutes.  Not good.

Summary:  With the Blues players only having to play one half, we should have seen much more hustle and desire.  Yes it’s only preseason, but Malaysia is a team that lost to Liverpool 6-3 just last week.  That’s the kind of dominating result you want to encourage and reward a team for training hard in preseason.  You want to blaze through these tune-up games, build confidence, and peak in time for the EPL season premier against Stoke.

Overall, absolutely not the energetic, goal-blitz I was looking for from Chelsea.  It was a lackadaisical effort that brought back bad memories of last season.  Andre Villas-Boas couldn’t have been impressed.  Hopefully he’ll light a fire under the team before the next match in Thailand on Sunday!

How do you think Chelsea played today?