CHICAGO, Ill. – Harry Shipp’s fledgling career took a major turn over the weekend, when the 24-year-old attacker was sent from his hometown Chicago Fire to the Montreal Impact.
The trade caused plenty of consternation among Fire fans, who are more than a little upset about their club sending away a promising local kid who, despite playing on two of the worst teams in club history, racked up 10 goals and 14 assists in 66 appearances with the team.
Chicago supporters know Shipp well, but his new fans in Montreal could use a little bit of an introduction to the Notre Dame product. Just who is the man behind the incisive through ball, probing runs and eye-catching goals? There’s his penchant for snazzy bowties, a new-found interest in politics and a love for music which saw him learn the French Horn and trumpet as a child. Our own Shane Murray spoke with the sixth-ranked player in MLSsoccer.com’s 2015 24 Under 24 series before news of the trade broke to find out more.
Who called the police?
Growing up in the leafy northern Chicago suburb of Lake Forest, a young Harry Shipp played for his local soccer club. While the games were largely enjoyable and comfortable as he and his teammates dominated most opponents, he recalls one game in particular in which things did not go to plan.
“I remember when we were like 10 or 11 we were playing a team that was a local rival in the northern suburbs of Chicago and we had to have the police called to the game because the parents of the two teams were in a fight,” he laughed. “I don’t remember how it played out but I know we had to leave because the police were coming.”
Standout at an early age
Shipp, who is also a keen tennis player and close to a scratch golfer, has spoken about his youth teams dominating games, so much so that his coaches would insist he and some of the better players did not cross the halfway line, thus reducing the pain and embarrassment on their ill-matched opponents.
“I remember when I was really young, before I even started playing travel soccer, that would happen because our team would win 20-0 every game, so it got to the point where me and a couple of the other best players were told we weren’t allowed to cross the half. Stuff like that is fun, and even though it’s 15 years ago I still remember it like it was yesterday.”
“I’m sure there were some games that I scored a lot of goals back in the day,” he added of his scoring exploits in his formative years. “I do remember when I was in travel soccer scoring five goals in one game when I was 11 or 12, that’d be the most I can think of right now.
A maturity beyond his years
Shipp isn’t your typical soccer player. A finance graduate from Notre Dame, he is one of the most cerebral, insightful and articulate players in MLS. He lent his weight to the Players’ Union during last year’s CBA negotiations, and speaks about the game with a maturity beyond his 24 years. Much of that can be attributed to his education from the hallowed South Bend college, whom he led to their first NCAA College Cup alongside younger brother Michael in 2013.
“For me, it was probably the best decision I’ve ever made in my life,” said Shipp, who counts former Notre Dame teammate and Colorado Rapids midfielder Dillon Powers as one of his best friends in soccer. “I’ve been around Notre Dame since I was young because my mom and that whole side of the family went there, so I’ve been going to football games and stuff. But actually being there soccer-wise and academically, I don’t think I would do it much differently. Coaching-wise I learned so much there about soccer, and obviously I was able to finish with a degree in finance in three-and-a-half years, so all-in-all I think it was the perfect fit for me.”
It didn’t all go swimmingly, however
Not everything went to plan during his time at Notre Dame, where he picked up a host of sporting and academic awards, most notably losing out to Patrick Mullins in the race for the 2014 MAC Hermann Trophy award. However, it also was the scene of one of his most embarrassing moments to date.
“Every Notre Dame freshman, I don’t know why, but you have to pass a swim test in order to get your degree,” he recalled. “They do it the first week freshman year and we played our first game the night before, I remember being tired, it was at 7 or 8 a.m. the next morning and you have to swim a couple of laps freestyle, then a few laps backstroke, and on my last lap backstroke I was exhausted and only made it halfway. So I had to take swim lessons three times a week for a semester, which was also embarrassing because I took swimming lessons while growing up so I shouldn’t have been in that position. I should have been able to pass it.”
First Fire Homegrown star
Shipp was just the third Homegrown Player in Fire history, after Victor Pineda and Kellen Gulley, but he became the first to play and score for the Men in Red.
“It’s special, I certainly don’t take it for granted,” he said of his place in the Fire’s history books. “There has been so many people to play for the Fire growing up that I’ve played with or seen play before me that haven’t got the chance to do what I’m doing currently. I live every day like I’m fortunate to be in this position and I have to make the most of it.”
New York hat-trick throws national spotlight on him
Shipp announced himself on the national stage with a stunning hat-trick in a breathtaking 5-4 victory at the New York Red Bulls on May 10, 2014, helping the Fire score their first win of the season at the ninth time of asking. Taking the match ball was even more memorable as Thierry Henry, a boyhood hero whose maroon Arsenal shirt he wore with pride in middle school, was playing for the Red Bulls.
“It was cool,” he enthused. “One, because it was obviously my first goal professionally and two, because it was my first win as a professional. You combine both of those things, it was a crazy game being 5-4, and there was a sense of relief that I had played well and that the team had won a game.”
A master in the kitchen
Away from the game, Shipp is becoming quite the chef. His Instagram bio reads “Future James Beard award winning chef,” and he’s said that buying his first grill was the best investment of his adult life. He has taken cooking classes in his native Chicago and loves to immerse himself in local cuisine when he is on vacation. He attributes his love of food to his Italian mom, while his dad’s side of the family owns restaurants in Colorado.
“My mom was always a good cook growing up, she’s Italian and once I moved out a couple of years ago, I was living on my own it really started interesting me,” he acknowledged. “I guess I have an affinity for food, my family owns some restaurants out in Colorado, I like trying new foods, I like going out to eat and then try to replicate those new foods when I come back and cook for myself.”
Bit of a romantic
Shipp also makes no bones about his love of romantic comedies and TV series “The Bachelor,” for which he is even in a Fantasy League with friends. Given his competitive instincts, it’s no surprise to learn he spent a lot of time analyzing the contestants of the popular ABC show with other teammates who watch the show, and has even got girlfriend Maria to watch it with him.
“When I was younger my sisters used to watch it with my mom, so I would watch it with them,” he recalled. “I think it’s hilarious TV to watch. It’s funny to watch the unnecessary drama that makes me feel fortunate that I don’t have in my own life. It’s funny because most people have their girlfriends tell them to start watching it, but I actually had to convince my girlfriend to start watching it.”
If he was single, is it the type of show he’d consider going on?
“No, absolutely not! It’s just fun to watch.”
A country boy at heart
Despite growing up in suburban Chicago, Shipp’s musical tastes have transformed and he is now a bona fide lover of all things country. One of his two sisters attends Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee and he tries to get down as often as possible to enjoy the music scene there.
“When I was growing up I used to hate country music, I liked rap, Lupe Fiasco and people like that, but when I went off to college my taste totally changed,” he said. “It’s easier to listen to and for me I like to keep in a pretty relaxed state, even in the course of games I like to stay calm and I think country music just makes you feel good and helps you stay calm. I like guys like Thomas Rhett and Brett Eldredge, those are two guys whose style I like, and I like the old Taylor Swift before she switched to pop, her old country stuff.”
A heartfelt goodbye
Shipp is onto new things in Montreal, but he didn’t leave Chicago without first saying goodbye. He posted a letter to Fire supporters to his Twitter account on Saturday, revealing some of the raw emotions he experienced in the moments after he found out he was headed to the Impact.
“When I was told out of the blue that I would no longer be a member of the Fire, I immediately broke down and started crying,” he wrote. “It was totally shocking and overwhelming. This club and this city have meant everything to me. Not just for the past 2 years, but since I started following the Fire over 15 years ago.”
“My passion in the last 2 years was to help make soccer relevant again in Chicago,” he continued. “There was no single part of this job I liked more than being able to relate to these kids and give them a realistic end-goal to dream for.
“Unfortunately all I was able to contribute was 2 of the statistically worst seasons in Fire history, and that genuinely breaks my heart more than you could imagine. I’m sorry that I was unable to do more for the city, because if anyone understands what this city deserves in a soccer club, it is me.”
While Shipp is understandably crushed to be leaving his hometown and the team he grew up playing and rooting for, he’s excited for his next chapter in Montreal, where he’ll join an Impact team looking to build upon their 2015 Eastern Conference Semifinal appearance this season.
“With this door closing, I am so grateful to the Montreal Impact and the city of Montreal for giving me this next opportunity in my career,” he wrote. “Fortunately, I have a new outlet to direct my energy/focus and I plan on making the most of it.
“I can’t wait to get to meet my new teammates, get to work, meet some of the fans, and do my best to learn a little French.”