BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. - There are not many professional soccer players around with a degree in finance, but the Chicago Fire’s Harry Shipp has proven he is anything but conventional in an impressive debut season in MLS.
Borrowing a great deal from his academic career at Notre Dame, the local native's measured and calculated approach to ball distribution has already established Shipp as one of the most potent offensive threats in the league.
Shipp was instrumental in leading Notre Dame to their first NCAA success in soccer in 2013 and there was no surprise when he was signed to a Homegrown Contract with the Fire, who return to MLS action with the visit of Toronto FC to Toyota Park on Wednesday (8:30 pm ET, MLS Live), despite interest from several other MLS outfits.
A confidence gained from scoring 23 goals and providing 24 assists in 83 collegiate matches allowed Shipp to transfer seamlessly into the professional game, as the 22-year-old made an immediate impact in preseason under new head coach Frank Yallop.
But did he expect to make such a telling impact, so quickly?
“I expected, honestly, to come in and make an impact,” Shipp told MLSsoccer.com recently. “Coming from my college career I was pretty confident I could come in, if I did well in preseason I would at least get an opportunity and I knew I would be able to be trusted by both the coaching staff and the players. I didn’t worry about making the mistakes that rookies or young players would typically make early in the season.
“So I think once I was able to do that and gain the trust and focus on getting better and learning and try to improve my game more and more every day, try to make an offensive impact but also work on cleaning up things defensively.”
Shipp didn’t make Yallop’s opening day 18-man squad as the Fire fell to a 3-2 defeat at Chivas USA, but impressed as he was thrown in from the start for the following week’s 1-1 tie at the Portland Timbers.
And now, with five goals and four regular season assists during the season, the rookie has established himself as a key figure in the Fire’s starting XI as Yallop has shown no fear in putting added weight on such young shoulders.
However, while Shipp has received considerable and deserved praise from his coach, his teammates, the Fire fans and the media, the player himself is taking nothing for granted and continues to work hard on improving his game.
“Just take the last [league] game against Seattle as a perfect example where I scored two goals and we lost the game [3-2],” Shipp asserted.
“I thought for the first 30 minutes or so I didn’t play very well, that’s what I think about more than the two goals I scored, is how can I improve that first 30 minutes, to touch the ball more, get on the ball more and influence the game more before we were getting down 2-0.”
And while he is living the dream by sharing the field with boyhood idols like Landon Donovan and Thierry Henry – “I used to love his Arsenal teams when he played there and I even wore his maroon Arsenal jersey to my middle school classes probably once a week” – he is certainly not overawed by competing against players of such quality and pedigree.
“To be on the field with those guys is a pretty special experience and I look forward to doing it the rest of the year,” he admitted.
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With the World Cup taking center stage and the US national team impressing en route to the last 16, Shipp was asked if representing his country or playing in the World Cup was something that he had ambitions to do.
“I think you always have big goals for yourself, and for me I’ll stop and make those goals every once in a while, I’m not consistently thinking about them,” he revealed. “I think you have to divide them up into smaller, intermittent goals, and you kind of think about those on a daily basis. For me, honestly, my personal goal right now at this moment is to help this team make the playoffs this year.”
“I think focusing on those little goals without the pressure of worrying about those big goals like playing internationally in the future, or making the World Cup team, I think about that pressure of forcing yourself on a daily basis to reach those, I think just focusing on the small things actually helps me play better,” he added.