The cowboy walks alone, in solitude, down the beaten path. It is a motif as old as the Wild West itself, the lone cacti, the dust settling on the prairie, the sole coyote howling at the moon, and the defeated hero walking the lonesome road into the abyss. The sun looks to be setting on Brek Shea’s MLS career as the big clubs have started calling for the cowboy. They all want to lasso the kid from Bryan, Texas.
Watching him last night it had become apparent that he has outgrown the MLS corral. Every time he touched the ball, he made something happen. New York’s defense collapsed two, three, and sometimes four men posses onto him when he was on the ball. And even on a night where he provided nothing on the scorer’s sheet he still made an impact. His tombstone epitaph may not be one of victory in making Dallas into a soccer hot bed where Dirk Nowitzki turns up every weekend, but since the injury of the last sheriff –David Ferreira – the deputy has controlled Frisco. He did everything he could, but for once his best was not good enough. So now the long march to MLS Cup continues on without the kid. And while the limelight should be on the ideal New York-Los Angeles conference semis, it is instead leering hotly onto Brek Shea and whether his long road leads back to MLS.
MLS has always had trouble letting go of their white hats, their characters, their personalities. Brek Shea is all three of those. Ideally the ranges of MLS pitches would hold onto people like the gold lined streets of San Francisco once did, but no one comes to MLS in search of riches. The big payday is overseas, not on the home range. MLS has, in the past, refuse to let Michael Parkhurst, Stuart Holden, and Clint Mathis be sold to foreign teams, instead hoping they see the light like Landon Donovan and remain forever. So repeatedly MLS has refused to sell stars when bids came in. This why they lose stars, or even secondary players, on free transfers.
What will be the plan with the kid, the sheriff, the rooster? He is a man amongst boys, but is he really ready for the showdowns of Manchester United, Liverpool, or Shalke04? Is MLS ready to let their latest sherrif walk down the tumbleweed strewn trail, or will they disallow a sale like they did with Landon Donovan and Clint Mathis? If MLS blocks another sale of an upcoming star, for their own selfish reasons, what will become of him? Mathis turned into the outlaw when his sale was blocked, meanwhile Donovan learned to deal with the loss of a European career by building a niche as the last American superstar. Could Shea be happy confined to his ranch, with his paintings, and his hair shears?
We don’t know, but we do know that all cowboys need to roam. And Shea has repeatedly stated that he wants to go to Europe…soon. After his failures during his first USMNT cap, this past October against Columbia, he said he spent months improving his on the ball skills, his crosses, and shooting with his right foot. Judging from his MVP caliber season and emergence onto the National Tem, his extra practice paid off.
Yet despite the hardwork, in all likelihood, he will probably be back with Dallas next season. But what about the season after that? What about while he is still in his prime? He has eyes for Europe. After all there’s gold in them there hills, and he’s all ready to saddle up and head towards the horizon line.
And maybe he isn’t ready for La Liga, EPL, or Bundesliga, but he is ready for the next step. No more of the MLS dude ranch, it’s time for Mr. Shea to ride the open range. And if MLS wants to grow up, they have to let Brek Shea go out. MLS is still a feeder league, but it hasn’t fed anyone since Kenny Cooper went to 1860 Munich.
It is high-noon for MLS, and less polished players like Juan Agudelo, Teal Bunbury, Andy Najar , Steve Zakuani, and Fabian Castillo -or at least their agents- will be watching how this standoff plays out, because someday it will be them. So if MLS wants to thrive in the Wild West of world football, and attract young up and coming bucks -like their new DP rule seems to indicate- they need to show a willingness to part with their fully developed pups. Even at the cost of losing a hero.
Either way, no matter how this first -probably of many- showdown goes Shea’s time in MLS is coming to a close. The question is how does MLS play it, because that is where this cowboy tale will really starts to take form.