2012 was supposed to be Brek Shea's triumphant victory lap at FC Dallas Stadium. With a brand new contract through 2015 and an impending trip to the Olympics, the big money offers were supposed to be rolling in for the Texan this winter.
But it didn't exactly work out that way.
After a breakout 2011 campaign that saw Shea earn MLS Best XI honors with an 11-goal 4-assist season, Shea barely had an off-season, traveling to Arsenal for a training stint with the English club before joining up with the USMNT for U23 Olympic Qualifying.
The signals for a possible rough campaign started early on in March as the US shockingly failed to even escape the group stage of qualifying, bringing Shea back to Dallas a sullen character as he dealt with the enormous disappointment. Things seemed to turn around, however, as Shea had a nice start to the 2012 campaign with a signature last-second winner against Montreal that set FC Dallas Stadium alive and opened Shea's scoring tally for the season.
But the good times wouldn't last long. Shea suffered a turf toe the next weekend in Vancouver that hobbled him for the rest of the year. Soon after the turf toe, the petulant behavior, absent since very early in Shea's career, seemed to return.
A well-publicized moment of madness struck on May 12 in Columbus when Shea kicked the ball at a linesman earning him a three-game suspension. When he returned to the pitch in late June, Shea was put in an unfamiliar lone striker role in which he roamed the field pressing to do too much, ending up inadvertently hurting the team's attack.
Then things really went from bad to worse in a game at San Jose broadcast on national TV as Head Coach Schellas Hyndman finally substituted the attacker in the 64th minute after more poor play. When coming off the pitch, Shea and Hyndman exchanged heated words and the Texan was suspended/sent home/whatever you want to call it for the next two games.
In timing you couldn't make up, Shea appeared in a controversial Dallas Observer cover story the next day.
When Shea returned, still hobbled from the turf toe suffered back in April, he still struggled to regain his form, though in typical 2012 rollercoaster fashion, he provided an assist on what was one of the biggest moments of the soccer season in the United States' 1-0 win in Mexico City.
Finally shut down for the year in early October, Shea underwent toe surgery that will have him miss most of the pre-season with a mid-February return to practice and mid-March return to the MLS field as the most likely timetable.
So why did I pick this as the #1 story that shaped 2012? It's simple, as Brek Shea goes, so Dallas goes. While it almost seems that Shea's name has become a bit of an afterthought around this blog in the past few months, when he's playing at his best, Shea is the one name that most sports fans in the city know and he's the guy that has the star power to take this team into the mainstream sports fan's psyche.
The biggest story of 2012, without a doubt, was the never-ending saga of Brek Shea and it won't stop in 2013.
Will he step back into the limelight as the most exciting young talent in US Soccer? Will he be able to recover from his injury and return to form in time to work his way back into the national team picture? With Ferreira, Castillo, Perez and Jackson can he lead FC Dallas back to the MLS elite? Was it 2011 that was the fluke or will we all look back at 2012 and laugh about it in the future?
They're questions without answers, but one thing is for certain, it will be a fun ride.