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How I learned to stop worrying and love Brek Shea

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The duality of man on full display

MLS: Colorado Rapids at Atlanta United FC Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Dane Brekken “Brek” Shea... He is perhaps the most surprising signing in Atlanta United history. That the team needed some help at left back was well known. Chris McCann was taking up a lot of salary cap space and Greg Garza was often injured so the team parted ways with them. George Bello seemed set to make the leap to a starter, but he is young and would need a backup. At first, it seemed like that’s what Shea would bring - depth from the bench. But with yet more injuries to Bello, Mikey Ambrose being serviceable but not exactly great (and also injured), and Michael Parkhurst being a more defensive option, Brek Shea has emerged as the starting left back for the Atlanta United Football Club.

It’s a fact that I’ve resisted and protested and snarked about in the article I wrote about him signing and in the Prekrap over the last few weeks. Then a funny thing happened as I re-watched some of the Toronto game and began writing the preview of the Orlando game - I realized I love how Brek Shea plays soccer, I just had to stop worrying about Brek Shea and try to understand him as a left back and an artist in order to see his brilliance.

You write “Born to Kill” on your helmet and you wear a peace button. What’s that supposed to be, some kind of sick joke?

Over the early course of the season Shea has had his struggles. He’s regularly been the lowest rated player in the community and staff ratings. Defensively he has lapses and it has cost the team - as in the opening goal for FC Dallas when it seemed like he could have been tracking back but didn’t. That goal wasn’t all his fault to be fair and these things happen. In the attack his touch sometimes fails him, his shots don’t hit the target, his crossing is a little off. The case can be made that Brek Shea is bad at soccer. But he’s not and why goes beyond what happens on the field and represents what the sport has to say about being human and why soccer is so enthralling in the first place.

The sport exemplifies the duality of man. There is conflict within all of us and that conflict is what makes us human. There is conflict within every aspect of soccer also. For example, teams must balance attack and defense - how they do that seems contradictory and how these contradictions are resolved is why the sport is so brilliant and interesting. For example, Spain in 2010 was counterintuitively the best defensive team in the World Cup because of their possession - they did not possess the ball only to score goals, but rather to stop the other team from scoring. The new trend in pressing is based on the idea that to score teams don’t need to control the ball, they just need to stop the other team from controlling it at strategic times and exploit the resulting chaos.

The duality with Brek Shea could be summed up as... well sometimes he does things that are good, but sometimes - maybe more than is ideal - he does things that are bad. The duality exists for every player in one way or another. With Josef Martinez it manifests in his relationship to being offside. To score goals he must be offside, but he must also be onside for them to count. This is a concept that is at times very difficult to grasp in the moment, but accepting the duality of it and watching him master it is an art form.

With Brek Shea, good and bad seem to come in extremes. For example, consider this:

But then consider this: Shea did some bad things like wildly stab at an attacker when he should have stayed on his feet setting up a good chance for Toronto. In the same game, given the option of trying a pass in Atlanta’s 18 that would be turned over and lead to a chance or clear the lines he picked the first one. Against Herediano he tried a rainbow in his own penalty area. Still, he’s settling into the role, maybe - actually - maybe? In his own way he’s finding out how to turn left back into an art form crafted in his own image and I am beginning to understand the beauty in all of it.

Then there was the flailing pirouette shot - a time when Shea’s duality was on full display (it’s /6).

He was in the right position, took the right touch, set himself up perfectly and ended up tripping himself. He can be perfect and imperfect in the same moment. Perhaps he needs to let go a bit and hear someone say, “Brek, you are not a screw up to me. You are a murderer. Do not worry about screwing up. You will screw up. I will screw up. I’m screwing up right now. You are staring blankly at me and screwing up right now. Let’s screw something up together. You are a warrior and your art is good. Bring me back their still beating hearts!!!!!” (I’m not saying that this person is Jurgen Klopp or that we should start a go fund me to hire him as a life coach for Brek Shea, but I’m not not saying that). Maybe I just needed to hear that about him to understand.

In case you don’t know, Brek Shea is an artist - like with paint, I mean a real artist.

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Art is about risks, it is part of what makes it appealing. It isn’t always pretty, you might not know what you are going to get in the end and even then you may not be sure what you are looking at, but art expresses the beauty and truth in the world. Art may also inspire other emotions like love, fear, awe, sadness, excitement, and confusion - if it’s done well this can be achieved in a single work of art.

As an artist on the soccer field Brek Shea is creating something and it is fascinating and beautiful if not sometimes terrifying and dread inducing to watch. Art is also about creating emotions and trying to represent the world as it should be. In that way the turnover in the box versus TFC and the rainbow attempt against Herediano was more of an expression of the world as it could exist along with the joy it could have engendered rather than the fear that it actually did create. But without fear there can be no elation.