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Player Spotlight

Harry Shipp Hopes to Build on His Early MLS Success

The 22-year-old Illinois native enjoyed a fantastic finish to his collegiate career, and is off to a great start in MLS. ASN's Brian Sciaretta spoke to Harry Shipp about his plans going forward.

BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
July 08, 2014
1:27 PM
THE 2014 WORLD CUP has delivered countless compelling storylines, and the 2014 Major League Soccer season has at least one of its own: the emergence of Chicago Fire rookie Harry Shipp.

Shipp, 22, signed a homegrown contract with the Fire after four standout years at University of Notre Dame, which included a 2013 NCAA championship. The success he enjoyed in his final college season has carried to the professional ranks, where Shipp has notched six goals and four assists in 15 games so far for the Fire.

At this point he is the heavy favorite to win MLS rookie of the year.

The transition from college to the professional level can be a difficult one for many young players but Shipp’s rookie season is just another achievement for the Notre Dame program—which produced 2013 MLS rookie of the year Dillon Powers, U.S. national team World Cup standout Matt Besler, as well as other MLS standouts such as Jeb Brovsky and Justin Morrow.

The decision to stay four years was not easy for Shipp but it was one that he believes benefited him and helped him to be prepared for MLS.

“I think it’s kind of humbling after each season,” Shipp told American Soccer Now. “You look at yourself in the mirror and ask, ‘Would I be ready to make the jump?’ With this league, especially, it’s hard. Sometimes if you get one opportunity and mess it up, it’s hard to get a second opportunity. That’s just how the league is. It’s cutthroat. I really wanted to make sure I was ready to contribute and play right away. So I was happy to stay four years.”

“I think especially at a place like Notre Dame, the coaching staff runs 100% professional practices,” he added. “It’s completely professional. College soccer as a whole gets a bad rap, but there are so many different experiences you have and I had a very good experience.”

One key factor in the success of many Notre Dame players, including Shipp, is the team’s head coach, Bobby Clark. A member of Scotland’s 1978 World Cup team, Clark has helmed the Fighting Irish since 2001.

He recalls Shipp as a small but talented player when he arrived in South Bend, Ind., as a freshman. Shipp's ability to keep control of the ball when under defensive pressure made a positive impression with Clark, as did his overall mental toughness.

“Harry is one of those players with a great touch on the ball,” Clark said. “He can handle pressure very well. He can pass well. He can bend shots. He’s just got a lot of strengths to his game. He’s very competitive. You look at him and he looks small but he’s a tough little guy.

“He can handle playing in the middle because he can handle pressure. Harry would be the first to admit that he still has a ways to go but I think he has the temperament and the ability to carry on. He’s certainly off to a terrific start. Everybody at Notre Dame is very excited for him.”

Unlike his close friend and former Notre Dame teammate Dillon Powers, Shipp was never viewed as a top prospect as a youth player. Powers was the Gatorade Player of the Year in high school and part of multiple U.S. U-20 national teams. Shipp, on the other hand, was never selected to play for a U.S. youth national team.

Never one of the most athletic kids in his age group, Shipp compensated for his shortcomings by becoming one of the smartest American players around.

“I’m five-foot-nine and weight less than 150 pounds, and not fast,” Shipp said bluntly. “I wasn’t blessed with athletic ability and natural ability. For me it’s just working hard and developing technical skills. When I was younger, I was always the smallest kid. I was five foot in high school and probably weighed 100 pounds. It was one of those things where I was never picked for youth national teams because I just didn’t have the physical abilities that other kids had.”

“Right now it’s paying off because I was really forced to think through games and become a student of the game. It’s all those things that maybe casual fans don’t notice but they’re essential to moving up to the next level. That’s why, partially the reason, my jump to the pros has been successful so far. There are things you can do on the field that make coaches and players trust you.”

Shipp is very close with his younger brother, Michael Shipp, who is currently on the Notre Dame team. Michael is not surprised by his brother’s success and echoes the fact that it has been his intelligence and the way he has learned to read the game that are now separating him from other young players.

“I think that he has always been overlooked because he’s not the typical prototype soccer player,” Michael Shipp assessed. “He’s not the most athletic. He’s not the fastest. But he’s incredibly smart on the field. His soccer IQ is really unmatched from people I’ve played with or people in college soccer. He’s always working hard to get better technically.”

Shipp’s priority for the rest of this season is to help lift a struggling club which failed to make the playoffs last year and has won just two games out of 16 this season. Still, the club is not out of the playoff picture due to its 10 draws and trails New York by just four points for the final playoff spot in the East.

The Chicago Fire mean a great deal to Shipp, who grew up nearby Lake Forest, Ill., and regularly attended games growing up. He recalls how members of the Fire organization were involved in coaching his youth teams and that “to have an opportunity to sign as a homegrown with the Fire kind of brings that full-circle. It gives something for other young kids to aspire to and hopefully I can be that path that they want to follow.”

The fact that he was never selected to represent the United States at the youth level is something that has been both disappointing and a source of motivation for Shipp.

“It’s something that still drives me today,” Shipp said of never representing the U.S. “It’s why I’m humble but still have a chip on my shoulder. I’ve kind of not been in the spotlight until this year. But even now, I play like the same kid who was never getting picked for anything. I like that. It’s what drives me to keep learning and getting better and focusing on the little things that made me successful in the first place.”

Shipp still has not played a full season as a professional so it is impossible to know exactly what his ceiling is at the moment. Those who know him best, however, like his chances for continued success.

“I think he’s hungry to prove himself,” Michael Shipp said. “I feel like his goal down the road is to prove himself and represent the United States. That’s obviously a great honor and I think he can potentially do that in the future. I believe that if he continues to work hard, there’s really no limit as to what can happen.”

Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter and share your thoughts on his thoughts below.

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