SANDY, Utah – A decade ago, when a fresh-faced Kobe Bryant won his first NBA title, hoops pundits had a minor chuckle at a 21-year-old’s assertion that he had dreamed of this moment “his whole life.”
Brek Shea is no Kobe – not yet anyway. But the 20-year-old rising star knows that he could be facing a career-defining moment on Saturday as FC Dallas have the chance to knock defending champions Real Salt Lake out in a monstrous MLS Cup Playoffs game.
“This might be the most important game in my MLS career,” Shea told MLSsoccer.com on Friday. “It’s the first time I’ve made the playoffs, and I may start. I’d like to help the team advance further.”
Up 2-1 from the first leg of their Western Conference semifinal, FCD don’t need to bring an end to RSL’s amazing 25-game unbeaten streak at Rio Tinto Stadium – a simple draw would do the job. But if the Hoops can hold serve in the toughest venue in the entire league on Saturday night (10 p.m. ET, FSC), they will have made arguably the most impressive scalp in recent postseason history.
[inline_node:322538]Shea could be a crucial cog. With Atiba Harris suspended due to his red card in the first leg, Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman may opt to move Marvin Chavez over to the right wing, which would allow Shea to move back into the position where he started 21 games during the regular season.
In just his third year in the league, the Texas native has shown signs of stardom. Through nearly 1,800 minutes logged for FCD this season, the 6-foot-4 attacker proved he could be a menace on the ball, using speed and size to push defenders around and create chances on goal. He was third on the team in both goals (five) and assists (four) during the regular season.
But in a year in which injuries and suspensions dogged Hyndman’s squad like a tax-evasion charge, Shea found himself the victim of bad timing. He received a red card for a reckless challenge on Chris Albright in a 2-2 draw at New York in September, and his subsequent two-game suspension and fine opened the door for Chávez to slide into the left wing position.
With two goals and an assist, the Honduran played well enough in Shea’s absence to keep the young Texan on the bench. That stay was extended further when Bob Bradley called the long-haired bleached-blonde into national team camp for the US’ friendly last month vs. Colombia at PPL Park in Chester, Pa., in which the Under-20 World Cup veteran got his first senior US cap. It was a little of win some, lose some, Shea says.
“Marvin came in and did great,” he said. “I was happy for him. I can’t be angry about that. I left again for the national team, and I can’t get mad about that either. I just have to sit and wait.”
And despite seeing only 98 minutes off the bench in just four games since mid-September, his time has come again. According to Hyndman, Shea’s size and speed would be hugely effective against an opponent like Real Salt Lake, who boast physical midfielders like Kyle Beckerman and Andy Williams, as well as large defenders in Jamison Olave, Nat Borchers and Robbie Russell.
In a game that will likely be decided in the midfield, it’s the perfect chance for Shea to gain back the momentum he lost before the red card.
“I’m a competitive person, I like to be out there,” he said of his spell on the bench. “But can’t think of it like that. If the boss asks me to come off the bench, I’ll do that. If I get my start tomorrow, I’ll be ready and I’ll do what I have to do.”
FC Dallas will need a result Saturday night in a hellish venue to move on. To get that done, they’ll need their star youngster to put forth a veteran effort.