VANCOUVER — After a mid-week training session at the National Soccer Development Centre, Brek Shea stood beside Vancouver Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson, taking instructions.
The rest of his teammates had long since filed off the field, but Shea had missed a lengthy training session a day earlier with an illness that may or may not have been food poisoning, so the midfielder/forward was getting caught up.
“He’s been great since I’ve been here,” Shea said of Robinson once their one-on-one finally wrapped up. “He’s honest. He tells you what he wants from you as a player, and he tries to really keep everyone involved to try and keep your confidence up. He helps you where you need to be helped.”
The 27-year-old, who was traded to Vancouver from Orlando before the start of the Major League Soccer season, wasn’t exactly thrilled when he first found out about the move he’d be making up north. Shea had a wife and a young daughter, with a son on the way, and they had a house and a life in Florida. The initial news, he said, was “shocking.”
But after an adjustment period, and an injury that saw him miss a month of action, Shea is feeling more at home — and playing a crucial role for the Whitecaps.
“I love this team,” he said, “so I’m happy to be here now.”
The Whitecaps are edging closer to the halfway point of the MLS season — they’ve now played 15 of 34 matches this year — a fact that Shea finds surprising.
“I didn’t realize it,” said the lanky Texan. “I feel like we’ve only played a few games.”
Shea has made nine MLS appearances for the ’Caps so far. He scored in the second leg of the Whitecaps’ CONCACAF Champions League semifinal matchup with Tigres UANL on April 5, then suffered a knee injury in the same game.
Since returning to action on May 5, as a substitute versus Colorado, Shea has made an impact for his new club. He promptly scored in that game, and added another in the Whitecaps’ next match, against Houston.
Because he wasn’t fully match fit, Shea made a series of appearances as a substitute before making his first start since the injury in Vancouver’s most recent home game, on June 17. It just so happened that his wife had given birth to a son, Zepplin, only hours before the start of the game, but Shea insisted on starting the match.
“I didn’t get much sleep or much good nutrition before the game, but I was excited,” said Shea, who faced his former team, FC Dallas, that night. “I enjoy this sport.”
Shea, who stands six-foot-three and possesses both speed and composure on the ball, made an impact once again in Vancouver’s most recent match, a 2–2 draw to Minnesota United. He drew a penalty after being tripped by Minnesota goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth; teammate Cristian Techera converted from the spot.
“I’m enjoying playing here in a more attacking role,” said Shea, who played mostly as a left full-back in Orlando. “I like to get forward and try and create chances.”
The Whitecaps could use even more of that spark from Shea, who has made headlines in the past for his eccentric behaviour — see, for example, the way he and his wife, Carling, announced they were expecting their first child.
In his spare time, Shea is well-known for his artwork — colourful paintings he creates from a mix of materials. He’s experimented with acrylic, spray paint, oils and pastels.
“When I have free time I try to paint, do something creative,” said Shea, who converted one of his balconies into a makeshift studio. “It’s just a hobby of mine. I haven’t since my son was born — been a little busy. But obviously in due time I’ll have more free time.”
While Robinson, remembering his own playing days, recently described Shea as “a nightmare” to face on the pitch, he’s been keen to point out what a great presence the designated player has been in the locker room.
Shea will be a factor — and, the Whitecaps hope, a nightmare presence — once again when the Whitecaps face Chicago Fire on the road on Saturday. Several players are still dealing with injury, and four Whitecaps, including Alphonso Davies, have gone off to join the Canadian men’s national team camp.
It will be a “huge challenge” to deal with those absences, Robinson said, and the ‘Caps could every bit of attacking force they can generate.
Shea, asked about facing Chicago, grinned and insisted there was nothing to fear.
“They’re a good team this year,” he said. “But I know we’re a good team, and if we stop them at what they’re good at and we do what we’re good at, I think we’ll have a good chance.”