A Stokie's guide to Brek Shea

Posted by James Whittaker

With Stoke moving ever closer to a deal to sign Brek Shea and with the player himself in attendance at the game last night, I caught up with US Soccer writer Richard Farley to ask a few questions about our latest target from across the pond.

Our manager has an unhealthy habit of playing people out of position, just so we know how much to chastise him, can you confirm what position(s) Brek plays?

Shea's a left winger now, kind of a MLS version of Gareth Bale. Like Bale, he has a history of positional flexibility. Before his breakout season in 2011, there was still debate as to whether Shea would eventually land a left back or left wing. It's a debate that some still engage in today.

Another wrinkle: During a winter tour of Europe last offseason, Shea was played at center half, with his play reportedly attracting the attention of Atletico Madrid. This led Shea to start last season in central defence for Dallas despite the fact he was coming off an 11-goal season at left wing which garnered Most Valuable Player consideration.

I'm a staunch believer Shea needs to be a left winger, at this point in his career. The center half-thing just seems a lazy bit of projecting his height and versatile talents onto another position. He'd been a left wing for most of his professional career, has had his greatest success at the position, but still needs time to grow. Leave him there.

Many of Stoke's fans won't have heard much about Shea, how would you describe him as a player and what would you say are his main strengths?

This is another place where the Bale comparison is helpful. Shea is big, fast, athletic, able to beat people one-on-one, and a presence that (at least, in MLS) forces an opposition coach to account for him. He's not great in the air or with his service from wide, but his raw athletic talents will make him a threat going toward goal.

Where do you think he could improve his game?

In England, he will have to be more consistent defensively (though for the U.S. national team, we have seen that effort). He'll probably have to get stronger, prove able to handle a physicality he won't be able to just sprint past, and his service will need to improve.

But Shea is so raw, all of his strengths could also see improvement. The positional shuffling he was exposed to in his younger days has held him back. This is what's a bit scary about Pulis potentially playing him at left back (which I can't see since Brek lacks the physicality of a Stoke defender).

Shea needs to be able to continue to develop his game. His raw talents have allowed him to get by thus far, but to take the next step in his career he needs to round out the finer points of his game.

Brek has had a few injuries in the past and obviously had a recent operation, should his injury record be a worry for Stoke?

I wouldn't be concerned about it. FC Dallas wasn't worried about his recovery from offseason foot surgery. He was set to resume full training shortly. A few knocks limited him to 21 (out of 34) games last season, but part of that was due to national team commitments, and some was do to suspension. He doesn't carry a reputation as an injury prone player.

Brek arrives having been touted by many as one of America's brightest prospects, do you think he will succeed in the Premier League and how far do you think he can go?

You could argue that Shea's 2011 Major League Soccer season was better than any season Clint Dempsey, Stuart Holden, or Geoff Cameron ever put in stateside, and his success also came at a younger age. For Stoke fans, that should be encouraging. Major League Soccer is clearly not close to the Premier League's standard, but some of its better players have found immediate success making that huge leap.

I don't know if we'll see the same quick splash from Shea. Between his age, game, recovery, and Pulis' other options, it might be best if he were loaned to a Championship team until June, time which would allow him to work back into shape while getting used to the slight stylistic differences of the English game and culture. He is, after all, only 22 years old.

If Brek makes those mental and physical adjustments, there's no reason he can't have a long and successful career in England. And who knows: He may prove another Holden/Cameron-esque surprise and have an immediate impact. What that means as far as statistics and accolades will depend on the club(s) he plays at.

For the price, I think it's a great move for Stoke.

As a US based 'soccer' fan, what is your impression of the Potters?

It's two-fold. I have an incredible admiration for Pulis and the club, and the ability to re-establish itself as a steady Premier League presence after such a long spell out of the top-tier. When you see what's happening to a club like Aston Villa, you never want to take anything for granted, but I can't imagine a season in the near future where the Potters will be favoured to go down. It's something supporters certainly don't have to worry about this year (knock on wood).

The team's style of play is a concern, though I see the type of Catch-22 situation that Pulis has created. He has a formula that works, but attempts to add small variations seem to have met with limited success. Jermaine Pennant is no longer a viable option, Diego Arismendi never got time, and a player like Maurice Edu who could have provided some thrust from midfield is now in Turkey. There are unique players like Jon Walters who can fit and provide something new, but Stoke's style has become so specific. It makes you wonder whether a player like Shea will have to compromise some of the more promising aspects of his game to have success in their very particular approach.

I'm intrigued by what will happen with the Americans in Stoke on Trent. While I'm sure Jurgen Klinsmann respects what Pulis has done, I can't imagine he's thrilled three potentially key talents are playing in a system that has so little overlap with the philosophies he's instilling in the U.S. national team.

Richard Farley is a freelance writer based in the Northwest covering MLS and European soccer. His work is featured prominently at NBC Sports' ProSoccerTalk. You can reach him on Twitter at @richardfarley or via email at richardfarley@gmail.com.

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