Getting Stuck In: Time to put the “D” in DP

The Getting Stuck In column delves into some of the more intriguing aspects in US Soccer and MLS, shining a light on the stories regarding the league’s teams and its most-loved characters. This week Dave Lewis looks into whether MLS clubs need to invest in more defensive Designated Players to enjoy success.

By Dave Lewis

So why should you read this gas bag talk about MLS? Well, my analysis wouldn’t help you win a bet in Vegas, but it might help you understand where MLS teams are coming up short. First, a disclaimer: I am not one of those Moneyball, sabermetric nerds that can take the amount of touches a centre back takes during a game, divide that by his passing completion rate, multiply it by his weekly salary and surmise his true value. Instead, I use the highly advanced method of the eye test. And the level of defense in MLS isn’t passing it.

As we know there is nothing sexy about being a central defender. The glory positions are in attack. The forwards get the commercials, the big wages and the women (John Terry being the exception – sorry Wayne Bridge). For MLS teams, shoring up the backline is an afterthought. In LA you have midfielder Robbie Rogers starting on the backline. DaMarcus Beasley, a winger most his life, starts in the back for Houston. And what is Brek Shea doing for Orlando City? You can’t just throw anyone back there.

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There are two teams with huge defensive deficiencies who tanked in the playoffs. Toronto, who fizzled out of the first round because they spent close to $16 million on three attacking players (Altidore, Bradley and Giovinco) with no regard for defense. And then there’s the Galaxy, who let in five goals at home to Portland just prior to their first round playoff exit to Seattle. LA, like Toronto, spent an ungodly amount on their three DPs (close to $15 million) while losing their star keeper, Jaime Penedo, over money. They replaced him with an over-the-hill Donovan Ricketts in the second half of the season who let in goals at an alarming pace. As my old man once told me: “It’s expensive to be cheap.”

Here’s my theory: If you take one of those attacking DP slots and use it on a defender or ‘keeper that is quality, experienced and young(ish), your MLS team might score less, but give up less. Defense wins championships, no?

Ok, maybe it’s unfair to pick on the two expansion teams since expansion teams rarely make the playoffs their first go around, but a little dirt kicked their way may wake them up.

Adding “D” will help NYC with the “Ws”

NYCFC  plays on the silliest looking, most awkwardly laid out pitch in MLS (and maybe the world?), with horrible sight lines and huge walls meant for baseball (wait, it was meant for baseball). The field is small in width, length and history. With the Manchester City money behind them, the club goes for flash: Frank Lampard, David Villa and Andrea Pirlo. Attacking players. Big name DPs. But what if they took one of those high priced players and put the money on a DP defender (they were tied for last for most goals given up in the league in 2015).

What if they took Lampard’s $6 million and gave it to let’s say Leighton Baines. He is 29. Still plenty left in the tank. He is a left-back with grit, great on set pieces and is a forward-like penalty taker (he just signed a new deal with Everton so not going to happen, but you get the idea). Or if you want a commanding centre-back, offer Martin Skrtel $7 million and the chance of living in the US, and he might leave Merseyside.

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Orlando is a keeper (away)

Ok, the goalkeeper position wasn’t the main problem in Orlando. But they did let in 56 goals with very few clean sheets to reflect on. Not all the fault of Tally Hall et al. Orlando has plenty of attacking players (see Larin). And they needed Kaka and his MLS leading salary to sell tickets in their inaugural season. But what if you took that Kaka money, or even half that amount, and put it on a ‘keeper? A star-studded stopper. Let’s say they signed Keylor Navas before he went to Real Madrid (he’s making Real fans forget about De Gea). Man, that would’ve put Orlando’s Mickey Mouse “D” to rest. Plus, he comes from Costa Rica where he would be closer to home, making it easier to make national team call-ups.

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True, there are some great young defenders in the league (the Whitecaps Kendall Watson and the Red Bulls’ Matt Miazga come to mind). But when I do my highly scientific analysis and get on FIFA 16 to play NYCFC versus Toronto, I have to watch Andoni Iraola, the highest rated MLS defender (according to EA) mark Giovinco, and that sure doesn’t pass the eye test.

Clearly the focus needs to be on “D”.

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MLS Fantasy Tips: Gameweek 12 ins and outs

It was a hectic weekend in Major League Soccer, in which Montreal Impact, Philadelphia Union and Orlando City all produced surprise results by beating some of the league’s biggest sides, throwing MLS Fantasy owners into potential chaos ahead of Week 12.

The next gameweek starts on Wednesday night as Sporting Kansas City take on New England Revolution so we take a look at the fantasy picks that should be brought in and the players that should be taken out for the upcoming gameweek.

Ins

Brek Shea (Defender) Orlando City SC: $7.9m – If you don’t already have the USMNT star in your team, he’s worth putting in ASAP. At $7.9m he is expensive for a defender, but he is currently playing on the left flank because Kevin Molino is out for the season. Even if he earns you $0.5m over the next few weeks, you can dump him and make profit.

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Dom Dwyer (Forward) Sporting Kansas City: $10.6m – With Obafemi Martins a doubt, owners of the Nigerian may want to put in Dwyer for the week as SKC play twice; at home to New England Revolution and away to Seattle Sounders, and he is overdue a scoring run with only three goals so far in 2015.

Outs

Hernan Grana (Defender) Columbus Crew: $6.6m – If you haven’t already read about his departure, Grana needs to go. His contract with Columbus has been cancelled and the defender has moved back to Argentina so take him out.

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Octavio Rivero (Forward) Vancouver Whitecaps: $9.0m – The Uruguayan striker has had a poor recent run of form with only one goal in his last six. After starting the season in stellar form with five in his first six he has fallen out of form and it may be time to cash in on the Whitecaps man.

What changes will you be making for Gameweek 12 in MLS Fantasy?

Former Burnley man feels Citrus Bowl ‘can be a fortress’ for Orlando

Orlando City finally won their first MLS home game this weekend, thumping LA Galaxy 4-0 in front of a 40,000 crowd at the Orlando Citrus Bowl.

Orlando’s Martin Paterson made his debut in the 83rd minute, replacing Brek Shea. The 28-year-old Northern Irish striker suffered a hamstring injury, causing him to miss the opening of the season, and he was delighted with his teams win.

The Lions are now fifth in the Eastern Conference after winning three, drawing five and losing three and the stadium oozed relief after the long wait came to an end for that elusive first home win. Paterson has urged his team to build upon this result and turn the Citrus Bowl into a place teams dread visiting.

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“It was only a matter of time until we turned this tide at home,” he is quoted as saying by MLSsoccer.com.

“I think we got what we deserved, and our players got what we deserved. I don’t think the next team will look forward to coming in here. I think this can be a fortress, and now we can turn the tide and really put teams to the sword.”

It is early doors to suggest that the Citrus Bowl can be a fortress given this was Orlando’s first home win but it is exactly what the Lions’ fans want to hear from their players.

Their next home game is against Eastern Conference rivals Columbus Crew on May 30.

Can the Orlando Citrus Bowl become a fortress?

MLS Preview and Prediction: Columbus Crew vs Orlando City

Competition: Major League Soccer – Columbus Crew SC vs. Orlando City SC

Venue: MAPFRE Stadium – Saturday, April 18th – 19:30 ET (00:30 BST)

Match Odds: Columbus 10/11 – Draw 13/5 – Orlando 14/5

Match Preview

Two of Major League Soccer’s most fluid sides face up on Saturday as the Columbus Crew entertain Orlando City at MAPFRE Stadium in what should be a thrilling Eastern Conference clash.

Columbus return home after back-to-back road games at Vancouver Whitecaps and New England Revolution, earning draws in both of those matches, and will want to pick up just their second win of the season in front of their own fans on Saturday.

The Crew have been playing relatively well and many feel that they are the team that play the most attractive football in MLS, but it’s time to start putting points on the board now.

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Their opponents Orlando have enjoyed a solid start to life as an MLS franchise and they too play some attractive, free-flowing football so this should be a treat for the neutral.

Orlando beat Portland Timbers 2-0 away from home last weekend as they remain unbeaten on the road and will travel to Columbus in high spirits.

This will be the first-ever meeting between the sides in MLS and is the first of three games this season, with the following two to be played in Orlando.

Columbus know a win will put them level on eight points with the Lions, who have played one game more, and this has all the makings of a classic between two sides with great attacking talents.

Kaka will look to continue to impress for Orlando, while Federico Higuain and Kei Kamara could cause problems for the Lions defence.

Team News

Columbus Crew could be without midfielder Wil Trapp, as the midfielder continues to struggle with concussion problems, while Waylon Francis (ankle) is also a doubt. Federico Higuain will start behind Kei Kamara in attack, with Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram likely to start on either flank. Chris Klute could start at left-back again in the absence of Francis.

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Orlando City will be without Tally Hall (knee) and Pedro Ribeiro (hamstring) for the trip to Columbus, while Martin Paterson (groin), Lewis Neal (neck) and Tony Cascio (back) could also miss out. Cyle Larin scored his first MLS goal last week and is expected to keep his place in attack. Brek Shea travelled with the USA squad for the friendly against Mexico but is expected to be back in the squad for the game on Saturday.

Key Points

Columbus Crew’s form: L/W/L/D/D

Orlando City’s form: W/L/D/L/W

Key Stat: Columbus Crew have registered more shots per game than any other team in MLS so far this season (15.4).

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Key Player: Kaka – The Brazilian playmaker is key to Orlando’s hopes and has seemed to perform better on the road this season. He scored his third of the season at Portland last week and will be a real threat again in this one.

Score Prediction

Columbus Crew 2-2 Orlando City – There is not enough to separate these two at this early stage of the season and so a draw is the most likely outcome, although we can expect to see plenty of goalmouth action as these two love to attack. This could be the game of the weekend.

MLS Fantasy Tips: Top Defensive Picks

The third installment of our fantasy tips series sees us preview the best defensive options in the official mlssoccer.com fantasy football game.

With the 2015 MLS season fast approaching, we take a look at the best defenders to consider starting in your MLS Fantasy lineup. Here are the five we think could top the points chart this term in defence:

1. Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy) – $9.0m

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A hefty price for the LA Galaxy Designated Player should be money well spent as LA are the favourites to retain their MLS Cup title again this year. With eight clean-sheets in the 2014 regular season, Omar Gonzalez is certainly worth a look so long as your budget can stretch.

The USMNT star is also a threat at set-pieces. He scored four times last season and his experience will be key in defence and attack. One concern would be that he has been known to have injury problems.

2. Liam Ridgewell (Portland Timbers) – $8.5m

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Portland Timbers are expected to have a good season and Liam Ridgewell will play a huge part in any playoff push the Timbers mount. The Englishman is a free-kick specialist and can also play in midfield.

At $8.5m he is an expensive pick but he is worth a look as he has a keen eye for goal and will pick up clean-sheet points that will be so valuable for your team.

3. Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City) – $9.0m

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The other half of the USMNT World Cup centre-half pairing, Matt Besler is a strong centre-back that can also pop up with a goal. Top players cost top money and Besler is valued at a price that is risky ($9.0m) but he could bring huge rewards if Sporting KC remain tight at the back.

Sporting Kansas City will be playing in the Western Conference this season but Besler should pick up some clean-sheets on the way. Last year saw Besler record his lowest fantasy points tally in three years but that was largely down to fatigue after the World Cup and he should bounce back in 2015.

4. Brek Shea (Orlando City SC) – $8.0m

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Some might say Brek Shea is a gamble but his versatility could see him move forward from left-back, where he is expected to play, throughout the season and with that he becomes more of a goal threat.

At $8.0m he is still a risk and may not settle back into MLS instantly. But he is going to get game time with Orlando City and may be worth the money so long as the Lions can remain relatively solid at the back.

5. Matt Hedges (FC Dallas) – $9.0m

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FC Dallas star Matt Hedges is a mainstay in a very good Dallas team. With the introduction of Dan Kennedy in goal, Dallas have only strengthened at the back and they are certainly contenders for the MLS Supporters’ Shield. Any club in the hunt for success needs to keep clean-sheets and Dallas are no exception.

Hedges popped up with three goals last season and that total could well increase this term. He was the fourth-highest scoring defender in 2014 and deserves serious attention.

Who do you think will be the best MLS Fantasy defender in 2015?

MLS 2015 Season Preview: Orlando City SC

As the 2015 season draws closer, we’ll have a new MLS 2015 Season Preview up everyday. Today we take a look at what Orlando City SC will be hoping to achieve in their first-ever season…

The arrival of Orlando City SC into Major League Soccer is fast approaching and we are excited to see what they have to offer. Expectations to perform will be high, but with Kaka leading the team they stand a strong chance of finishing at the top end of the Eastern Conference in their inaugural season. As it is their first ever campaign people will question how much they can achieve, but their introduction to MLS is exciting and we are looking forward to seeing how it all unfolds.

Last season’s finish: N/A (Inaugural Season)

Orlando City players huddle up in preseason action (Photo: http://www.orlandocitysc.com/)

Orlando City players huddle up in preseason action (Photo: http://www.orlandocitysc.com/)

What to expect this year:

Seeing as it is their initial season we obviously cannot compare previous campaigns, but with the players they have bought in there are high expectations. With big signings Orlando have to reach the playoffs and much comparison will be made between them and fellow expansion franchise, New York City FC. With Kaka at the heart of the midfield we can expect classy counter-attacking play led by a calm experienced head. Aurelien Collin will play a major part into how they perform defensively and his MLS experience is vital. Bryan Rochez has been brought in as a Designated Player up top and he will be expected to score the goals that fire Orlando to success this year.

Key changes to the squad:

As it is their first season the squad building at Orlando was vast. Their key additions are:

Ins: Kaka – Midfielder (Designated Player), Bryan Rochez – Forward (Designated Player), Aurelien Collin – Defender, Brek Shea – Midfielder, Donovan Ricketts – Goalkeeper, Amobi Okugo – Defender

Outs: N/A 

Key player: Kaka – Midfielder

Kaka Orlando City SC

There isn’t much to say about former Ballon d’Or winner that already hasn’t been said. He will play a pivotal role in Orlando’s first season and his experience in the squad is unparalleled. Playing at the top level and wrapping up European honours such as the Champions League, La Liga and Serie A mean he is the star. The 2002 World Cup winner will take the pressure for the Lions’ performances on the field and will improve the players around him. The rest of the Orlando squad can learn so much from Kaka and the number 10 will need to be at his brilliant best to set examples and keep his side composed. The 32 year old is a natural finisher and will show why he is regarded so highly by driving the side on with his midfield surges and range of passing. Kaka has always been a pleasure to watch and don’t expect that to change in MLS.

One to watch: Bryan Rochez – Forward

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The Honduran forward has an impressive goals-to-games ratio for former club Real Espana with 30 in 62 and he could be a dark horse for the Golden Boot this season. He has showed in glimpses what he is about in Orlando’s preseason campaign and will need to prove he is worthy of the DP tag Orlando have given him. The 20-year-old striker will enjoy working with Kaka and the service he should receive gives him a good chance of continuing his impressive scoring record.

Predicted finish: Eastern Conference – 2nd

Orlando should have a strong first season and we are expecting big things from them. With the squad they have we can expect them to put up a good challenge against everyone they face. The team is strong throughout with experienced defenders, and creative midfielders and Adrian Heath has one of Major League Soccer’s strongest team’s on paper. With Kaka at the heart of it all we are just counting down the days until kick off now.

How will Orlando do in their first-ever MLS season?

Five takeaways: Chile 3–2 USA – What did we learn about the USMNT?

The US Men’s National Team got their 2015 campaign underway against Chile in Rancagua last night and although it was only a friendly, the game left us with plenty to think about.

Jurgen Klinsmann started the game with a 3-5-2 formation in place but a close to full strength USA side lost the game 3-2 against a Chile B side.

The Chileans have all started their new season and are much fitter than the MLS-based players who have only just started preseason training and that showed in the second-half as the USMNT let a 2-1 lead go as a result of fatigue.

Here are five things we learnt from last night’s game:

1) 3-5-2 is not the reason behind defeat and needs to be tried again.

Many questioned Klinsmann’s decision to lineup in a 3-5-2 setup against Chile on Wednesday night but the system seemed to work well overall, despite some defensive issues. The USA scored more than a single goal in a game for the first time since the World Cup which is obviously a positive but the wingback positions need more attention. DeAndre Yedlin and Brek Shea struggled to get back and defend wide areas as the USA allowed Chile to cross the ball 41 times.

As Shea opens the scoring look at how far forward he and Yedlin are

As Shea opens the scoring look at how far forward he and Yedlin are.

The still shot above shows how far forward Yedlin and Shea were willing to get from the start of the game. As Shea blasts his shot in, Yedlin is as advanced as strikers Bobby Wood and Jozy Altidore. Effective in attack, but not in defence.

Klinsmann reverted to a more familiar 4-4-2 after halftime as the USA went on to lose the game 3-2, despite leading at the break. Fitness is a key issue this early in the year but the 3-5-2 experiment cannot be scrapped just yet. Needs more work.

2) Jermaine Jones is too reckless to play in the centre of a three-man backline.

Jermaine Jones played in defence once again on Wednesday, but this time at the heart of a three-man backline alongside Matt Besler and Steve Birnbaum. Jones was seemingly allowed to play where he wanted on the pitch though and he failed to stick to his position on several occasions. Being a natural midfielder – the position he thrives in for New England Revolution, Jones has a tendency to carry the ball out of defence, but he was caught on more than one occasion and Chile created chances from his turnovers as a result, with Jones then missing from defence.

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He was seemingly playing in midfield in the second-half but he uses his athleticism too much at points and goes charging into areas that he doesn’t need to. Some more tactical discipline would keep Jones in a position where he could break down an attack, but chasing the ball is not something that will help him, or his teammates.

Jones should be played in midfield alongside Bradley in the upcoming friendly against Panama to allow him to express himself in his natural position. The USA need his box-to-box athleticism, just not from defence.

3) Does a game have to have two halves?

The worrying trend of second-half slumps continued as Chile battled back to turn the game around in the second 45. The USA have now lost their last three games, and conceded nine second-half goals in their last five, a spell in which they haven’t won a game. That is a major concern. Fitness was a reasonable excuse this time around as players haven’t played a competitive game for a couple of months, but the staggering drop in performance levels as the game goes on is something that needs to be addressed quickly.

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One positive is that the USA managed to avoid conceding a goal in the final ten minutes for the first time in four games. They had conceded 11 goals in the last ten minutes of their last 11 games, but managed to stop that becoming 12 in 12 against Chile.

4) Steve Birnbaum largely impressive, Bobby Wood not so much.

Steve Birnbaum and Bobby Wood were both given their first starts in a USMNT shirt against Chile but had differing nights. DC United defender and 2014 MLS Rookie of the Year, Birnbaum played well and looked comfortable at the back, despite having to play in a back three. He almost scored an own goal in the second-half as a cross bounced off his thigh and fortunately into the arms of Nick Rimando in goal. That blunder seemed to affect him as he wasn’t as well organised for the remainder of the game, with the third Chile goal deflecting in off his leg, but that was down to fatigue as much as anything else.

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Bobby Wood started in attack alongside Jozy Altidore but didn’t offer enough of a threat, before being taken off at halftime. He’s struggling for gametime with 1860 Munich in Germany and that showed as he looked off the mark. There are better players that should start ahead of Wood for now.

5) Lee Nguyen needs to start, Gyasi Zardes showed promise.

Lee Nguyen had to settle for another substitute appearance as he gets used to life back in the USA setup, but Klinsmann should have started the New England playmaker. Nguyen has the ability to thread killer balls through – something desperately missing, but he came into the game alongside tiring teammates against a Chile side that controlled possession. Nguyen needs to start against Panama.

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Gyasi Zardes made his international debut last night and left us wanting more. The LA Galaxy striker has improved dramatically over the past 12 months and deserved his chance with the USMNT. He came on and looked lively, despite the lack of service, and forced a save late on with a shot that he will feel he could have done better with. The main thing is that he showed he can create space with his movement, and we look forward to seeing more against Panama.

What did you make of the USA game against Chile on Wednesday night?

Stoke manager Mark Hughes confirms Brek Shea is finalising move to Orlando City

Stoke City manager Mark Hughes has confirmed recent reports linking USA midfielder Brek Shea to Orlando City are true, and he revealed that the deal is now being finalised.

Shea has struggled to make any sort of impact since moving to England with the Potters in January 2013 and a return to Major League Soccer should see him improve dramatically once again.

“We envisage Brek completing his move to Orlando,” Hughes said today.

“It hasn’t been confirmed yet, but he was in the building yesterday trying to tie it up.”

After thriving with FC Dallas from 2008-2012, Shea was expected to be the next USMNT star to make it in Europe. But that hasn’t happened and the 24-year-old will be looking to get his career back on track with a move to expansion side Orlando.

Playing regular action back in his homeland should also see Shea become more involved with Jurgen Klinsmann’s national team setup.

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After making 10 international appearances in 2013, Shea was on the right path but he missed the World Cup squad this year and only played twice for Klinsmann in 2014.

There isn’t any better way for Shea to enjoy a fresh start than with a side that has yet to play a game in MLS and Orlando will hope that their investment in him pays off.

Will Brek Shea be a good signing for Orlando City?

Orlando City sign Bryan Rochez as second designated player, but who is he?

On another big day of spending for the Florida-based side, Orlando City have have taken a huge gamble by making Bryan Rochez their second designated player after Kaka.

At the ripe age of nineteen he has made a meteoric rise in his country of birth, Honduras, and already has six caps for Los Catrachos.

The news comes as a bit of a shock seeing as Orlando have been linked with more high-profile targets such as Robinho and Brek Shea recently.

However, in Rochez they have a natural goalscorer as he was the second highest scorer in the Honduran Premier League last season with 20 goals. And he has started this campaign with the same form, netting eight times in fifteen appearances.

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Rochez is the first Honduran to be a part of the Orlando City squad and joins fellow designated player, Kaka, in Orlando’s debut season in MLS.

He was a member of the Honduran under-20 team that won the Central American games in 2013, where he scored the winner as they won 1-0 against Costa Rica in the final.

Orlando now has a fresh young talent in Rochez but he is yet to be proven in the fast paced game that MLS provides. And at only nineteen years of age, will this big gamble pay off for Orlando City?

Many will question this bit of business from the Florida-based franchise, however, he could be just the key finisher to latch on to the creativity that Kaka is sure to provide.

Do you think Bryan Rochez will be a success at Orlando City?

Orlando City to bring Brek Shea home to reignite career

Orlando City SC are closing in on the signing of US winger Brek Shea from Premier League side Stoke City, according to the Orlando Sentinel’s Paul Tenorio.

A move back home to Major League Soccer would give Shea the chance to reinvent his career, after struggling to find any sort of form, of regular game time in England.

The 24-year-old moved to Stoke from FC Dallas for £2.5 million in January 2013, but has made just five appearances for the Potters in almost two years.

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He has spent time on loan at Championship clubs Barnsley and Birmingham City in the past 12 months, but his loan spell with Birmingham ended on Saturday and Orlando are now prepared to give Shea an escape route from his English nightmare.

At 24, the left-midfielder has time to get his career back on track and a return to MLS should see that happen, while he will also hope to force his way back into US manager Jurgen Klinsmann’s national team plans.

He made over 100 appearances for FC Dallas between 2008-2012, with 98 of those coming in the regular season games and he scored 19 times for the club before moving abroad.

Shea has 27 international caps so far, with his most recent call-up coming in the friendly win against Czech Republic back in September.

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He trained with Orlando City last summer and so he and the club know that a deal will be the best thing for the player. Seeing regular minutes in MLS with a new expansion side couldn’t be better for Shea.

The chance to reinvent his career has come at the perfect time and Orlando have another strong piece to add to their squad jigsaw before the new season begins in March.

The deal is expected to be confirmed this week, and Shea must make sure he remains sharp and hits the ground running.

Is Brek Shea a good signing for Orlando City SC?