'I wasn't very happy at first:' Shea finds footing after trade to Whitecaps
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VANCOUVER — Brek Shea sits down on a bench before peeling off his cleats after a spirited practice. The Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder answers a couple of questions when the conversation turns to the circumstances that brought him to the West Coast.
In short, he never expected to be here.
"(The trade) was a huge shock to me," said Shea. "I wasn't very happy at first, to be honest. But now I really enjoy my team and the staff and the environment."
Acquired from Orlando City SC just before the start of the Major League Soccer season, the tattooed 27-year-old Texan with long blond hair has already had a number of highs and lows in Vancouver.
Shea was red carded and suspended for swearing at the referee in his first MLS start before suffering a knee injury in early April moments after scoring in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinal.
The Whitecaps thought he might miss three months, but Shea was back working hard at training a few weeks later and has bagged goals the last two games as a second-half substitute.
Needless to say, Shea's first 80-odd days in Vancouver have been eventful.
"I came in, one game got a red card, then missed one and then got injured," he said. "I'm starting to feel more healthy now so hopefully I can be a more consistent contributor."
The owner of 24 goals and 20 assists in 148 MLS appearances, Shea's career started with FC Dallas before he headed overseas to join Stoke City of the English Premier League in 2013.
The move didn't end up working out, and after two loan spells to second-tier Championship sides, the veteran of 34 games for the U.S. national team returned to MLS with Orlando two years later.
"Fantastic teammate, great professional," said Whitecaps midfielder Andrew Jacobson, who played with Shea in Dallas. "He's naturally very gifted, physically very gifted."
While Shea is rounding into form on the pitch, there's also no denying the ability he possesses off it. His website Left Foot Studio sells his vibrant paintings and artwork to raise money for charity.
"It's just a hobby of mine," said Shea, whose wife and daughter have joined him in Vancouver. "I always enjoyed art when I was young. My mom was very artistic. It's just something I really enjoy to do off the field."
In the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando last June that left 50 people dead, including the gunman, Shea created some pieces to help the survivors, including rainbow-painted cleats.
"That was a huge tragedy," he said. "I just wanted to contribute as best I could. That was one way I could contribute."
Back on the field, Shea has come as advertised when healthy. He scored the game's only goal off the bench two weeks ago against the Colorado Rapids before getting one back in last Friday's 2-1 loss to the Houston Dynamo.
Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson recalls tangling with the six-foot-three, 195-pound Shea — a finalist for MLS MVP in 2011 — at the tail end of his playing career.
It wasn't an enjoyable experience.
"He was a nightmare," said Robinson, who sent Giles Barnes the other way in the deal with Orlando. "He's athletic and strong. You think you can get the ball as a defender, and you can't."
The owner of various creative hairstyles through his career, Shea played predominantly at left back with Orlando, but Vancouver brought the designated player across the continent to ply his trade further up the pitch off the wing.
"I did the (defensive) role I was asked to do in that situation, but even in that role I enjoyed going forward," said Shea. "I think my strengths are going forward and trying to create an attack or be a part of it."
The Whitecaps (4-5-1), who host Sporting Kansas City (5-2-4) on Saturday following a four-game road strip, hope that continues.
"He's got two goals in a row," said Jacobson. "I've been on the field with him before.
"When he catches fire he can be one of the best in the league."
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