BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Chicago Fire interim head coach Brian Bliss’ recent acknowledgement that Harry Shipp was “not particularly built for wide play” may have seemed a harsh assessment of the second-year player.
But Bliss’ statement may have been more of an acknowledgment that Shipp was best suited elsewhere, specifically in a central role.
After all, the 23-year-old made a name for himself as an advanced central playmaker while guiding Notre Dame to their first NCAA title in 2013, but he has occupied a less familiar role on the wing for most of his 64 regular season appearances since breaking through with the Fire last season.
Following those comments, Bliss’ vision was on display Saturday against the New England Revolution as he started Shipp as a second forward behind lead striker Gilberto. And Shipp was instrumental in their impressive 3-1 win, tallying a goal and an assist.
Shipp admitted he’s been “learning a new position” since his arrival in MLS.
“For me, I’ve played in the center my whole life until last year, so I literally had zero experience playing out wide,” Shipp told MLSsoccer.com this week. “I always knew playing centrally was my best position, and for the past two years I’ve been doing my best to learn a new position because that’s what the coaching staff wanted me to do.”
Typical of the application and dedication the Lake Forest, Ill., native has for his craft, the studious Shipp admitted he obsessed about trying to become the best winger he could be, studying games and clips of other players who were effective in the position.
“I spent all day every day thinking about how I could be the best outside mid possible,” Shipp said. “I think he’s [Bliss] right, but no matter what position I’m playing I’m going to focus on trying to contribute to the team in the best way I know how.”
Despite the new demands placed on him, Shipp led the team in assists (six) and tallied seven goals in an impressive debut year in MLS, which saw him finish the season as a finalist for the MLS Rookie of the Year award. He has continued that form this year with a team-leading eight assists, as well as three goals, in 31 outings.
Shipp spoke about the challenges of playing “between the lines” of defense and midfield, especially against two experienced players like Jermaine Jones and Scott Caldwell in the defensive midfield roles, which they played admirably for the Revs. As such, Shipp kept his discipline and remained patient on a higher line, which resulted in him being less involved in the game overall, but also meant he was ready to make an impact when he did get on the ball in the critical final third.
“Playing there, Caldwell and Jones do a good job of not letting there be a space between themselves and the back four,” he said. “Ideally, I want to get the ball between those two lines and face up and hopefully slip guys through. I think they do a good job of keeping compact, and for me it was about staying patient.
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“I know up there you’re not going to get the touches you want every game, but I could have easily come back and come deeper in the midfield and got some touches, but I was waiting for those one or two opportunities to make a difference in the game. Luckily this game I was able to take advantage of that.”
Shipp was also satisfied with his fledgling partnership with Gilberto, who now has four goals in six starts since his arrival in Chicago this summer, and he is already looking forward to building on that next season.
“He’s a good player, he’s smart, he’s a good finisher and he’s always thinking he can make those little runs off the center backs’ shoulders,” Shipp said of the Brazilian former Toronto FC player. “Going forward working with him is definitely something I’m looking forward to.”