As a former Major League Soccer All-Star, it came as no surprise that Brek Shea featured heavily for Orlando City in its inaugural MLS season. Where he featured for the Lions provided intrigue, however, as the former midfielder started the season at left back before returning to the wing and – while dealing with an injury of his own – subsequently alternating between attack and defense for OCSC down the stretch of the regular season.
Shea's performances up front and at the back for City raise an interesting question as the team prepares for its 2016 preseason: Does the Texan fit better with this Lions squad as a fullback or a midfielder?
Out of 19 total games played for Orlando in 2015, Shea played 10 as a defender and nine as an attacking midfielder. This provides an even distribution in each role for his season, but it also limits the sample size on which he can be evaluated in either position. Our own Daniel McGann put together league-average statistical comparison pieces for both left backs and midfielders which paint a picture of Shea as a good, but not great, player in either spot for Adrian Heath's side.
As a left back, Shea was solid for City last season but committed far more fouls than fellow LB Luke Boden did in 22 appearances, while also racking up more than twice the amount of yellow cards per 90 minutes than the league average--totaling seven on the season. So while he performed well for a newly converted defender, Shea was slightly below the level of Boden defensively, despite his superior athleticism and size.
In terms of attacking contribution, Shea out-classed Boden going forward, but was found wanting when compared to fellow left winger Carlos Rivas in a more advanced role – Rivas proved to be the more explosive player in terms of shots, shots on goal, and crosses per 90. While Rivas had a penchant for firing deep shots into the stands and was caught offside more than Shea, he still showed great attacking ambition and linked up with rookie striker Cyle Larin on all four of his assists, which bodes well for the young Lions attackers moving forward. Plus, Rivas was clearly a player Heath had in mind to develop as a primary cog in his attack when he was brought in from Deportivo Cali as a 20-year-old last January.
While no stark differences appears at LB or in midfield, the numbers lead one believe that Brek, while versatile and talented enough for cameos on the wing, fits better into the current Orlando City team as a left back.
On the left wing, Rivas' unrivaled pace, along with his shooting and crossing ability, makes him the team's most dangerous potential player on that side of the midfield. If the Colombian can scratch the surface of his ability, which he was making strides toward late last season, he will be the first-choice at LW for Heath without question.
Even as a midfielder early in his career with FC Dallas, Shea did not score goals in heaps (19 goals in 110-plus appearances), and his physical gifts give him a chance to develop into a very good two-way fullback in MLS.
While Boden's defensive performance was slightly better in 2015 than Shea's, the gap between the two defenders isn't a wide one, and what Shea adds going forward in the form of overlapping play and crosses into the box gives him the edge over Bodz in terms of a potential ceiling for the Lions (and it should be noted that the club currently has $400k more per year invested in Shea).
While Shea is still not seasoned as a left back and will certainly be pushed by Boden, Brek makes the most sense for the 2016 Lions at the back with the easily ignitable Rivas deployed ahead.