People die in this weather. But everyone — the videographers, the media interns, the public relations director, the journalist — is out here sweating through their shirts in the FC Dallas Stadium parking lot because soonish, Brek Shea, the hometown kid whose face fills a poster hanging from the stadium, whose name is on the backs of hundreds of jerseys at every home game, who at 22 (and 21 and 20) has been called “the future of American soccer,” is going to drive over a pile of oranges.
Shea stands out as freakishly tall – and fast, and strong – on a soccer field.
The moment he started getting minutes, Shea became a fan favorite. And he reciprocated by signing every autograph.
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FC Dallas is trying to promote its upcoming derby against in-state rivals the Houston Dynamo, whose mascot for some reason is an orange. Shea has a toe injury and will not play, but nobody knows that. All they know is that Shea can play, is eligible, that is, for the first time since more than a month ago, when he got called for a foul and kicked the ball into the nuts of the assistant referee. The ref took it like a pro, but Shea got slapped with a three-game suspension anyway.
Shea walks out and he is the only one not sweating. He’s 6-foot-4, 180 pounds, less than five percent of it body fat, and even through his baggy T-shirt everyone can see he is got arms like nautical ropes. He looks like the happy result of a science experiment, if the scientists were among the growing segment of Americans who wish their country were better at soccer and who broke into a genetics lab to do something about it.
Shea’s trademark platinum-blonde faux hawk (when it’s not dyed red, or worn long, or in cornrows) looks good, as it usually does, and he is wearing highlighter-orange sunglasses to match his highlighter-orange shoes. He’s a salad bowl of stereotypes: surfer and skater and frat boy, and with his religious and motivational tattoos, like the verse from Phillipians 4:13 on his ribs and “Believe” on his calf, you can add badass and church boy, too. He’s a marketer’s wet dream.
He’s a Texas boy, too, so naturally he drives an old yellow Bronco that he purchased on a whim before ripping off the doors and the hood. But then the drive shaft fell out, so today, no Bronco. He’s in his step-brother Kevin’s shiny new Ford pick-up instead.
“They state they do not flip,” Shea states as we climb in. To prove it, he does a doughnut, and the Ford definitely feels like it’s going to flip, but it doesn’t. A PR guy gets in now and puts on the team mascot’s giant bull head and hangs half-way out the window, and Shea accelerates up to the orange pile, aiming his left tire at the citrus.
He backs up and stops in the middle of the peel-and-pulp killing field, and then, with his foot on the brake, he hits the gas and fruit goes flying in his wake, and everyone cheers. The team’s PR director — a cheerful young woman who doubles as one of Shea’s ideal friends, his second mom, his third sister and his one-man security detail — gets in, and we listen to Wiz Khalifa as he drives across the street to a sandwich shop called Firehouse Subs. The media guys stay behind to scrape orange slush off the ground.
Shea’s been eating here since May 14, 2010, the day before he scored his first Major League Soccer goal. That was before people knew what to do with this freak of nature, when he came off the bench as a center back, or center midfielder, or wherever else the team needed him. It was before he moved to the left wing and ran roughshod through the 2011 MLS season, before he was voted to the All-Star team, then first-team all-league, then second runner up in the MVP race, and before Team USA coach Jürgen Klinsmann took notice and, for a while anyway, Shea was among Team USA’s leaders in playing time.
He’s been coming here since before he was voted the 2011 U.S. Soccer young male athlete of the year, before people started comparing him to American players like Landon Donovan and Jozy Altidore and international stars like Cristiano Ronaldo and his favorite player, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, even though he may have been blessed with more physical tools than any of them.
Still, this is soccer in America, so he gets only a tiny attention when we walk in. An employee asks him to sign a Brek Shea bobblehead. A few children point. Then his Adidas commercial comes on. He looks up at it critically, studying himself on the restaurant’s flatscreens as customers look at the TV, and then to him, and then back to the TV.
“That one scene took like six hours to shoot,” he states of the 30-second clip. “Just the one part, where it shows me putting my hand in the shoe. I could not hold the shoe right, I guess.”
He speaks for a while about growing up in the backwoods of Bryan, Texas, about his painting hobby, about his family, about his signature hairstyles (“Long hair is the shit”). He’s a five-year pro, though, on national teams since he was 15, so he answers the questions he wants to answer and deflects the ones he doesn’t. Then come the questions about that El Salvador game, the one where Team USA failed to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics, the meltdown that started Shea’s current meltdown of being hurt and angry, of not being called up to the national team for the first time since Klinsmann was named head coach.
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