Soccer in the United States has long craved its own Lionel Messi, a playmaker, a creator, an on-field artist if you will. Though the national team has reached a point where it can be competitive in World Cups and other international tournaments, that one-in-a-million super-talent has not yet emerged from these shores.
Brek Shea is not that guy, either. The USA's exciting new left-sided midfielder is eight inches taller than Messi and has a rapidly improving game based around power and energy rather than mesmerizing ball skills and flashing feet. He can, it is hoped, be a valuable contributor for club and country over the next several years, but he is never going to be a whirling dervish who can single-handedly crack any defense like the tiny Argentine, and to say so pays him no insult at all.
Off the field though, Shea has developed a set of quite remarkable creative skills. When he is not training or playing for Major League Soccer's FC Dallas or Jurgen Klinsmann's national team, the 21-year-old can be found with paintbrush in hand and delving into his artistic soul.
"I go out into the garage and just sit down with my paints," Shea told ThePostGame. "It is very calm, I am just in a pair or shorts and barefoot and alone with my thoughts. I can be out there for hours and just get lost in whatever I am painting. I love it."
This is not just a hobby. Shea's art is good enough that it has been commissioned by investors from all corners of the United States and his works recently raised $10,000 for charity at a show in Texas.
He has opened Left Foot Studios in Dallas, complete with its own website at LeftFootStudio.com, where admirers of his painting can view images and place orders. Shea's art is in high demand, and he will have a series of back orders to complete, both from teammates and collectors, once the season ends.
Yet rather than being a distraction Shea believes that his time spent painting has had a positive effect on his soccer career. Fiercely competitive and with an aggressive approach that impressed USA fans during the
side's 1-1 tie with Mexico in Philadelphia earlier this month, those laid back times in front of the canvas provide a welcome antidote to the pressure of life in professional sports.
"There is no right or wrong, especially with a lot of the abstract stuff that I do," Shea said. "I can just free-flow and express myself and whatever is in my head. It can take me away from it all, it is just me and sometimes my dog out there.
"I paint about whatever. Sometimes I am just walking around and I notice something and next time I come to paint I remember it, the way it looked or how certain colors came together."
Shea studied art in elementary school but is primarily self-taught. He devoured books to broaden his artistic range and watched instructional videos on the internet.
"It is his thing and it is also the way he is," said Shea's representative, Spencer Wadsworth. "He has great drive and focus and concentration and I’m pretty sure those things help him in both soccer and art.
"It is definitely not the kind of thing you normally associate with a professional soccer player, but it is a really cool thing for him to be doing with his time, better than playing video games or whatever."
With European eyes on MLS more than ever -- Shea's FC Dallas teammate, defender George John, may be about to move to EPL club Blackburn Rovers for a fee of $3.5 million -- it may not be long before a foreign club comes knocking for the big midfielder from College Station, Texas.
His physique would surely stand up well to the rigors of the EPL and signs are that he is technically sound enough to cut it in England or another European league.
Klinsmann's reign in charge of the U.S. national team has just begun, but it appears likely that Shea will at least get a fair crack at holding down a position on the left flank, one that could be his own by the time the 2014 World Cup rolls around.
Little is certain in soccer, or art. For now though, in both of his careers, the reviews are positive and the outlook is bright.
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