Amid the chaotic scenes at the end of Wednesday's match between FC Dallas and the San Jose Earthquakes -- a game in which FCD defender Jair Benitez missed a stoppage-time penalty that allowed San Jose to escape with a 2-1 win -- the present form and mental state of Dallas attacker Brek Shea still managed to take center stage.
Dallas is currently tied for the fewest points in the league alongside Toronto FC and the Portland Timbers and Shea's performances have mirrored those struggles for much of the season. Fatigue caused by his frequent stints with various U.S. national teams over the past 12 months has been the usual explanation, but there have been other incidents that have indicated all is not well with the 22-year-old. Shea suffered a three-game suspension for kicking the ball at an assistant referee in a match against Columbus back on May 12. He has tallied just three times in 2012 league play and was also part of the U.S. U-23 team that failed to qualify for the Olympics.
On this night, with usual forward Blas Perez not only injured but back in Panama due to the death of his father, Shea was deployed as a lone striker in the first half. While Dallas threatened often from set pieces, he labored to connect with any of his teammates and plenty of promising Dallas attacks died at his feet. Things improved (albeit marginally) in the second half when he was moved to his more natural position out on the left wing.
So in the 64th minute with Dallas trailing 2-0, manager Schellas Hyndman opted to pull Shea in favor of Carlos Rodriguez; that was where things got interesting. Shea voiced his displeasure at Hyndman as he exited the field and the two appeared to exchange some sharp words. Shea then proceeded to sit by himself on the end of the bench with a towel wrapped over his head as his team's late rally fell agonizingly short.
After the game, Hyndman declined to make Shea available to the media and did his best to bite his tongue as he fielded a steady stream of questions relating to his young star.
"I think it's better that I don't make any comments about [Shea's] performance," he said.
When asked what Shea had said to him, Hyndman responded, "I think it's probably better I don't make that comment, either."
Hyndman later said he didn't know what was going on in Shea's head at the moment, even apologizing for not making the player available to the media. Though he then stated, somewhat cryptically, that, "I think [Shea's] in enough hot water already." Hyndman said that any decisions about disciplining Shea for his outburst would be handled once the team returned to Dallas.
FCD captain Daniel Hernandez was more forthcoming, however.
"I thought [Shea] was very disrespectful, not only just to Schellas, but I thought to the rest of the team," said Hernandez as he stood near the team's bus. "He's a young guy still, but this shows the immaturity there in him, and I think a lack of professionalism that right now, at this point in the season, the way things have been going for us, we can't have.
"Nobody likes to come out of a game. I don't like to come out of a game," continued Hernandez. "I'm pissed off when I come out of a game, or when I don't play. But when things are not going well for you, or you're not having a good game, and coach needs to make a change, you have to respect it. At this point in the season, we can't have those breakdowns right now, because we need everybody. We need him. He's one of the stars of our team, and we need him to step up with his leadership and his play. He's obviously one of the best players in the country. In order for us to try to fight to get into the playoffs, we're going to need him and everyone else, 100 percent."
The impulse is to think that this is just the kind of bump in the road that most young players encounter, but it has been almost a year since Shea delivered a performance, either for club or country, that had the kind of "wow" factor fans and coaches had grown to expect. Shea's talent level is beyond debate. The big question now is whether Shea has the mental fortitude to fight through this extended rough patch.
It's possible that Shea might require a change of scenery if he is to come out positively on the other side. Yet it seems unlikely that MLS would allow one of its young stars to exit the league at a time when his valuation is well below its peak, especially given the current transfer tug-of-war that has taken place over another hot commodity, Houston Dynamo defender Geoff Cameron. A trade within MLS seems unlikely as well given Shea's considerable upside.
Some will no doubt suggest that Hyndman is the one who should go. Without question, his reputation has eroded since leading Dallas to the 2010 MLS Cup final and results like Wednesday's don't help, especially with a normal penalty taker like Shea stuck on the bench. That said, FCD's difficult injury glut this season can't be laid at his feet and while tempers appear to be fraying, that's not uncommon for a side that is propping up the rest of the league. Besides, Hyndman was chased by Dallas owner Clark Hunt for years before finally agreeing to leave SMU -- where he had coached for 24 seasons -- to take over FCD. It seems like it will take more than one bad season for Hunt, who played for Hyndman at SMU, to pull the plug.
Either way, plenty of eyes -- from Hyndman to U.S. national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, and everyone in between -- will be watching to see how Shea fares.
Corrales looks back: When it comes to MLS, it's safe to say that San Jose defender Ramiro Corrales has seen just about everything.
Save for a three-year stint in Norway from 2005 to 2007, Corrales has been around since the beginning of the league. He made his MLS debut as an 18-year-old against the L.A. Galaxy on April 28, 1996, and has since made more than 300 league and playoff appearances with San Jose, the now defunct Miami Fusion and what was then known as the New York/New Jersey MetroStars. He's played on teams that failed to make the playoffs -- no small feat given that at one point, the regular season eliminated just two teams -- as well as San Jose's championship teams of 2001 and 2003.
That longevity helps explain why Corrales, the last of the MLS originals, was named to this year's All-Star team as one of commissioner Don Garber's picks. But don't let nostalgia fool you; Corrales is also enjoying another typically solid campaign for San Jose, one that has seen him spend time at left back as well as in midfield.
Despite the long career, it doesn't take much prompting for him to harken back to 1996, when the product of nearby Salinas latched on with his local team. "I was the youngest one back then, when the league started," Corrales said via telephone. "I was super excited, being 18, and turning pro at that time. For me it was a dream come true. That first year there was a lot of excitement for me and my family."
It's become almost a cliché to talk about how much MLS has improved since then, but for Corrales, the big differences are the league's profile off the field and the tactical developments on it.
"I think back in the day, in 1996, a lot of people didn't know what MLS was," he said. "I think now, around the world, they respect the league a little bit more.
"I think the players are smarter tactically. There's a lot of good coaches now that played the game, that know the game, who were players in MLS before. For me, that's where the most improvement has come, in the tactical aspect of the games. It's so much better, it's night and day to be honest."
Vancouver's attacking makeover: A little more than halfway through the season, Vancouver's transformation from league doormat to likely playoff qualifier looks legitimate even as an attack that ranked fourth from bottom in average goals per game threatened to undermine the Whitecaps' season. So in came preseason signing Barry Robson, as well as winger Dane Richards and designated player Kenny Miller. Out went this year's version of Dwayne De Rosario, the now twice-traded Sebastien Le Toux, as well as Davide Chiumiento. Meanwhile another DP, forward Eric Hassli, looks destined for limbo even once he's healed from an ankle injury.
"When we got Kenny Miller, we looked at Sebastien [Le Toux] as a right-sided player," explained Vancouver manager Martin Rennie before Wednesday's 2-2 draw with the L.A. Galaxy. "I know he likes to play centrally as a striker, and I just felt that if we were going to play Sebastien as a wide right player then it would be wise to see what else was out there. Dane is a natural wide right player with a lot of pace. We felt we could really add to our team, especially given the fact that we had someone coming in like Kenny Miller, someone who could not only score goals but he creates a lot of goals, works very hard for the team, can play a lot of positions, and can come in and link up the play."
These developments appear to be toughest of all on rookie forward Darren Mattocks, with Hassli running a close second. The Jamaican speedster had recovered nicely from a bizarre cooking accident, one that sidelined him for nearly two months, to record six goals in his past seven appearances. But with the arrival of Miller, and with Robson likely to occupy a central attacking role, Mattocks could be the odd man out, at least once Miller gets fit.
Yet Rennie still sees the situation as nothing but positive for Mattocks. "I think [Mattocks] will learn more from working with a player like Kenny," said the Whitecaps coach. "He can talk to him about certain things with his movement and his timing of runs. Obviously he needs to keep getting better, but I definitely think he can play with Miller and he can play with Richards. I think with those guys together they can be excellent."
Rennie had much the same to say about Hassli, insisting that the Swiss striker "is a big part of what we're doing." This in spite of the player's hefty salary of $790,000 in guaranteed compensation.
Overall, Robson is the key to making these moves all work. The Scot has showed off his range of passing in flashes through his first four games before enjoying something of a breakout performance against the Galaxy. That will need to continue.
"I think Robson will be able to settle down and just do his job and play well for us," Rennie said. "I'm sure he'll help us a lot."
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN.com. He is also the author of "Soccer's Most Wanted II: The Top 10 Book of More Glorious Goals, Superb Saves and Fantastic Free-Kicks." He can be reached at email@example.com.