By Michael Lewis
CHICAGO -- Many lessons can be learned from this year's CONCACAF Gold Cup, on and off the pitch.
For a coach, it is not to give up on a player when things are not going well.
For a player, it is not to give up on yourself for the same exact reason.
Exhibit A from the Gold Cup was U.S. midfielder Brek Shea, who came off the bench in five of the champions' six games. In the one game he started, the former FC Dallas star was replaced at half-time.
Yet, Shea certainly had his moments in the 188 minutes he was on the field for the United States, scoring a pair of memorable goals in what turned into 1-0 victories.
His first goal was only minutes after he came on as substitute, striking for the lone goal in the 1-0 Group C win over Costa Rica on July 16.
His second tally was even more significant as Shea connected only 42 seconds after entering the field in the 68th minute in the 1-0 triumph over Panama in Sunday's final at Soldier Field.
Asked if the tournament helped his confidence, Shea replied. "It's still up and down. I had good times, bad times. But the team was great all of the time. I'm not concerned about me. I'm concerned about the team winning. Nothing else really matters. I'm just happy to be here."
The U.S. was happy to have the 23-year-old Shea as well.
After a rather disappointing start in a group stage win over Belize, Shea was taken out of the match in the second half. Most coaches would bury the player on the bench. Instead, U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann stuck with the Stoke City midfielder and Shea wound up burying a pair of key goals.
Shea was asked if he was surprised that Klinsmann brought him back for the knockout round and did not replace him.
"I'll let other people figure that out," he said. "I stayed and trained and tried to get better."
With the score tied at 0-0 midway through the second half Sunday, the U.S. decided to make a change, taking off Joe Corona and putting on Shea.
When it came time to bring Shea into the match, Klinsmann, who had been suspended, said he had discussed many scenarios with assistant coach Andreas Herzog, who called the shots from the bench.
“We made a lot of ‘What if’ scenarios, obviously,” he said. “What if certain players get injured or yellow carded or red carded. You have to do your homework as a coach, basically."
And then Shea went out and got some extra credit.
"You see a guy like Brek, unpredictable for himself and the opponent, it’s a card that you want to play,” noted Klinsmann. “He knows he has a way to go. He has this hunger. He has this willingness to learn. Now it has happened in two games. He was at the right time at the right spot, deciding two games in this tournament with his nose, with his energy, with his unpredictable play."
Shea rejoined Stoke City for pre-season training immediately shortly after celebrating the CONCACAF title.
"I feel like I got better in this camp," he said. "I had been struggling for a long time with an injury now. I feel healthy now. I haven't felt this healthy in a long time. So now I have to get back playing and well again."