CHICAGO—With just two seasons under his belt, Harry Shipp found himself in the unusual position of elder statesman when the Chicago Fire reported for preseason training earlier this week.
Goalkeeper Sean Johnson has been away on US national team duty, leaving the 24-year-old Homegrown star as the longest-tenured player present when new head coach Veljko Paunovic put his roster through their paces for the first time.
“It’s crazy, I feel like an old vet,” Shipp told reporters this week. “It’s weird for me too, it’s going to be my third year, but I feel like I’m starting over as a rookie too, starting from scratch, new coaching staff, new everything pretty much. I’m getting to know everyone, it’s a fresh start that I needed personally and I think everyone who’s sticking around needed for sure.”
Despite his relative youth, Shipp will certainly be one of the more seasoned members of the Fire roster, which has an average age of 23.1 years, with Razvan Cocis (32) and new signing Michael Harrington (30) the only players over 30 on the current 19-man panel.
As such, Shipp found himself assuming more responsibility, especially with younger signings, making an effort to communicate more and helping them settle into their new surroundings.
“I’m trying to [take a leadership role], definitely,” Shipp said. “Only Sean has been here longer – and he’s not even here right now. As far as people here I’m the guy who’s been around longest, so I’m just helping people out.
“We have a lot of rookies and young guys in and I’m just helping them get comfortable. The difference coming into a new organization is just the whole comfort level. Once you settle down and are comfortable, you are able to play to the best of your ability and focus on making the team or starting or whatever your specific goal is.”
- Get more Fire news at Chicago-Fire.com
Shipp has amassed 66 regular season appearances since bursting onto the scene in 2014, scoring 10 goals and registering 14 assists, impressing with his distribution, poise and eye for the goal.
Already encouraged by his work with Serbian coach Paunovic, Shipp believes the coach's detail-oriented approach and goal-specific targets have brought a renewed energy and enthusiasm to the club.
“You’re taking everybody’s energy and applying it to a few key points every day,” Shipp said. “We’ve had the six weeks of preseason mapped out, what we wanted to accomplish every week already and I think for us that’s great.
“You know where the end goal is six weeks from now, and once the season starts you have another end goal at the end of the regular season and hopefully another end goal at the end of the playoffs. For us to focus on these six weeks, week-by-week, is something that’s going to be important for us going forward.”