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Atlanta United signs Brek Shea, adds depth on the left

Jul 25, 2018; Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada; Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Brek Shea (20) chases the ball against Montreal Impact at BC Place. (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

With Chris McCann, Jose Hernandez, Mikey Ambrose and homegrown George Bello at left back, plus Hector “Tito” Villalba, Ezequiel Barco and homegrown Andrew Carleton having featured on the left wing, it didn’t seem Atlanta United FC needed to add depth on that side of the pitch — on paper, anyway.

The decision makers for the Major League Soccer Cup champion team thought otherwise.

Atlanta United signed Brek Shea to a one-year deal Sunday. The specifics of the contract were not disclosed.

While the 28-year-old from College Station, Texas has played at several positions over his pro career, he has mostly featured on that left side since returning to MLS from a stint in England in 2015. Since that first season back, with Orlando City SC, Shea has played in 99 MLS games, starting in 68. He has started 22 games at left back, 38 games at left midfielder or left winger, three times at striker and five times on the right side of the pitch, according to WhoScored.com.

Atlanta United referred to Shea as a both a midfielder and a defender in its statement announcing the signing.

“We’re pleased to add a player of Brek’s caliber and versatility to the club,” Atlanta United technical director Carlos Bocanegra said in the statement. “He has significant experience, playing numerous years in MLS, overseas and for the U.S. Men’s National Team, and will be a great addition to our locker room.”

Aside from re-signing captain Michael Parkhurst, Shea is the first announced signing of the offseason that the Five Stripes have made.

Shea began his career with FC Dallas in 2008 as a teenager. Through the 2012 season, Shea made 98 appearances with the club in MLS regular season play and scored 19 goals. He had arguably his best season in 2011, where he tallied 11 goals and four assists over 30 starts. He was an MVP finalist, an MLS Best XI selection and an all-star.

Following the 2012 season, Shea signed with Stoke City, an English Premier League side, but never quite found the right role for himself and also battled a knee injury. Across three seasons, he only appeared five times for Stoke in all competitions. He was also loaned to lower-tier English sides Barnsley and Birmingham City, playing in a total of 14 matches with those clubs. Shea also played in eight games with Stoke’s U-23 side, scoring once and adding four assists.

When Shea came back to the U.S., he joined Orlando, which was an expansion side at the time. Shea played two seasons for the Lions, starting in 39 of the 46 games he appeared in while notching three goals and six assists. He began his time in Orlando at left back, but struggled and moved to the wing, his preferred position.

A trade sent Shea from Orlando to Vancouver, where he started in 29 of the 53 games he appeared in over the past two seasons. Shea tallied seven goals and four assists during his time with the Whitecaps. Since returning to MLS, Shea has also been handed 19 yellow cards and a pair of red cards.

Shea was paid handsomely in his last season with Vancouver, earning a total compensation of $745,000, making him Whitecaps’ second highest paid player in 2018, according to salary data released by the MLS Players’ Association. Only four Atlanta United players — Miguel Almiron, Barco, Josef Martinez and Villalba — earned more than Shea last year. Shea became a free agent after Vancouver declined the option on his contract.

At one point, Shea was a key player for the U.S. national team, but he hasn’t played in a game for the Stars and Stripes since 2015. He made his debut for the U.S. in 2010 during the Bob Bradley era. Shea has since earned 34 caps and tallied four goals and two assists for the national team. One of those goals came in the 69th minute of the 2013 Gold Cup final, helping the Americans capture the trophy and a win over Panama.

Shea is 6-foot-3 and incredibly fast. With the ability to play left back to left winger to striker, he could be a utility piece and provide depth at several positions as Atlanta United battles in MLS, Concacaf Champions League and U.S. Open Cup play in 2019.

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