Brek Shea finally joins Stoke City

Posted by Jason Davis

Brek Shea's Texas-sized grin said it all. During the coverage blitz that is the last day of the January transfer window, the American winger was stopped for a word by reporters outside of Stoke City's training ground. Shea, perhaps still giddy over finally getting his move out of Major League Soccer and into the Premier League, hardly had a thing to say. But his smile could light up the English night.

There was very serious doubt that the move would happen after word leaked that MLS valued Shea a shade higher than Stoke did. Manager Tony Pulis went so far as to say it wasn't going to happen. A planned weeklong trial for Shea, ahead of a decision by Stoke, went by the wayside. MLS reportedly overvalued Shea and threatened to squash the deal.

In the end, it appears Stoke didn't need the trial after all, and that MLS wasn't intransigent in their fee. Shea was Stoke bound.

At £2.5 million, it's a value signing on Stoke's part. The Potters would pay a higher fee for a talented wing player from almost anywhere else, especially a 22-year-old with Shea's potential. MLS is rapidly becoming a bargain hunter's paradise, a fact of which Stoke is keenly aware after picking up the versatile Geoff Cameron from the Houston Dynamo last summer. Provided he can settle in quickly, Shea could pay immediate dividends for Pulis.

That is, if Shea settles in and if Pulis finds a way to effectively use his new player. On the surface, this move doesn't seem like much of a match. Shea is big enough for Stoke, but he's known more for his one-on-one moves and dynamic attacking abilities up the left than for anything resembling the physical style of the Potters. He's not a natural defender, either. Stoke's midfield doesn't appear to have the type of space in which Shea would thrive. And when he does defend, it’s the clumsy type of defending you'd expect from a player who has spent much of his young career focused on scoring goals.

Not that anyone should doubt Pulis's ability to rapidly determine how Shea best fits into the Stoke system, then plug him in to great effect. It may not be obvious now, but Pulis is hardly the type of manager to take a flyer on a player like Shea without some idea as to how he will contribute to the Stoke cause. In the club's statement on Shea's transfer, Pulis said Stoke has been tracking Shea's progress for the past three years.

Brek is in the Premier League now. Stoke isn't the preferred destination for budding American internationals from the U.S. national team perspective. But a player whose attention may have waned in MLS and whose relationship with his coach was threatening to derail his progress now gets a fresh start in an environment that will challenge his commitment and adaptability. Shea might morph into a different player under Pulis than we've watched grow over the past five years, but that doesn't have to mean he, or the national team, will be worse for the transformation.

Stoke, in more than a few ways, is a long way from Texas. Shea's adjustment off the field will be just as important -- and potentially more difficult -- than his adjustment on it. It's a great comfort that there's already an American there to hold Shea's hand through culture shock.

Shea's future, since the day he joined MLS from the Bradenton academy at 18, always included an inevitable move to a European stage. He always had the talent. Stoke seems an odd place for him to finally fulfill that promise, but you wouldn't know it from his Texas-sized smile.

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