Brek Shea’s critics have plenty of pointed questions about the way he plays soccer.
They wonder about the Vancouver Whitecap midfielder’s passion for the game. They don’t think Shea’s production equals the salary paid to the designated player which, according to the MLS union website, was US$670,000 last September.
Coach Carl Robinson answers those critics by pointing to the two goals Shea has scored on the road this season, both in games the Whitecaps have won.
“I’m a big fan of Brek Shea,” Robinson said after a Whitecaps’ training session this week. “I think sometimes he gets unfair criticism. People always look at what players can’t do rather than what they can do.
“Brek has got us six points already this season because of his play.”
The Whitecaps (3-1-1) will need another strong road performance when they play Real Salt Lake (1-2-1) Saturday in a Major League Soccer match at Rio Tinto Stadium.
“They have a young team and a good team,” said Shea. “Some results haven’t gone their way. At the end of last year, I think they were playing really well.
“They have threats all over the field. We have to go there with the mentality like we had the last road games and try and get three points, stick to our game plan.”
Vancouver obtained Shea in February 2017 in a trade with Orlando City SC for Giles Barnes. The long and lanky 28-year-old from Bryan, Texas, has scored six goals in 30 games with the Whitecaps. Five of those have come on the road.
Shea scored the tying goal in the 51st minute of last week’s 2-1, come-from-behind win over the Columbus Crew. Often a man of few words with dealing with the media, he shrugged when asked about his ability to score goals away from BC Place Stadium.
“I haven’t thought about that,” Shea said. “You just go out and try to get three points for your team.
“If you score it’s good, whether it’s home or away. If the team wins, it’s even better.”
Some Whitecap fans expected more out of Shea, a former U.S. international who spent two seasons with Stoke City of the English Premier League.
Robinson is quick to defend Shea.
“Yes, there are areas he needs to work at and he wants to work at and he does on a daily basis,” said Robinson. “Let’s focus on what he’s good at.
“Brek is a key part of his squad because he brings something different. He’s a very direct runner. He likes to get in behind, he’s got good delivery. He’s got good goal scoring ability with both feet.”
The Whitecaps’ 10 points leaves them tied with Sporting Kansas City for first place in the MLS Western Conference. Vancouver and Los Angeles Football Club also have the best road records in the West at 2-1-0.
“We just go there with a mentality to get three points,” said Shea. “We can’t get them every time, but we enjoy it the times we have.”
Real Salt Lake is ninth in the West, one of three teams with four points.
Coach Mike Petke said his team needs some mental adjustments following a 3-1 loss at Toronto last weekend.
“You can teach players to pass the ball from A to B,” Petke told the Salt Lake City Tribune. “You can teach a player to move three yards to the left to receive the ball.
“I’m not a psychiatrist. It’s going to be interesting to talk to individuals and collectively about our mentality. It’s early in the season, but that’s clear. When I say mentality, it covers a lot of things.”
One of the Salt Lake players the Whitecaps must maintain close watch on is forward Joao Plata. He leads the team with two goals and is second with six shots.
Vancouver defender Jake Nerwinski said the five-foot-two, 157-pound Ecuadorian isn’t easy to move off the ball.
“I played against him twice last year so I kind of know his tendencies a little bit,” said Nerwinski. “He’s a quick guy. He’s small, he’s low to the ground.
“He’s very good with the ball. I just have to be aggressive with him early.”
Jim Morris, The Canadian Press