Waking the Echoes: Shipp conquers new challenges
Alex Carson | Sunday, November 23, 2014
Harrison Shipp won a national championship last year in his senior season at Notre Dame. This spring, he became the first homegrown player to appear for the Chicago Fire. Today, he might be named Major League Soccer’s Rookie of the Year.
“[Winning the award] would kind of validate the hard work I put in,” Shipp, a midfielder for the Fire, said. “Not just this year but kind of since I got to Notre Dame and just continually growing and improving as a player. … But, you know, it’s not the end-all, be-all — win or not, you’ve still gotta grow as a player, and it’s gonna be more important where I am five years down the road than winning this award.”
Shipp is also up for the Xbox Individual Fair Play award, given to a player that exhibits sportsmanlike behavior.
“To be honest, I didn’t even know it was an award,” Shipp said. “I was not consciously trying to win the Fair Play award, but it would be funny if it happened.”
Notre Dame and preparation for professional soccer
Shipp is up against FC Dallas forward Tesho Akindele and D.C. United defender Steven Birnbaum for Rookie of the Year honors. If he were to win, it would mark the second straight year Notre Dame produced the MLS Rookie of the Year. Colorado Rapids midfielder Dillon Powers took home the honor in 2013.
“I think [Irish coach Bobby Clark] really more so than most college coaches, he makes you think about the game,” Shipp said. “In turn, it makes players really mature soccer players and ready to play their first year, I think. They’ve been forced to think so much about the game their four years here.”
Shipp said the Irish program provided him with several important skills that have prepared him for MLS.
“Another thing for me was leadership,” Shipp said. “Not just … yelling-at-people leadership, but knowing how to do the little things every day to make people respect you and kind of how to earn people’s respect, and Bobby kind of forces you to do that.
“And also we do a good job of responding to negative things that might happen. We’re calm whether or not things at Notre Dame were going well. … Once you get to the professional game, the highs are higher, and the lows are lower, so the more you’re able to stay calm and not worry about things when things aren’t going the best, that’s going to lead to success.”
The ups and downs of year one
When Shipp came to the Fire from Notre Dame, he was used to playing in the center of the field. However, with the Fire, Shipp was deployed in a wide midfield role for long stretches of time by Fire coach Frank Yallop.
“You’re dealing with a lot more athletes out wide,” Shipp said. “Defensively, it’s tough — you’re more isolated so, you know, there’s more pressure on you to take responsibility defensively, and attacking-wise, I think sometimes you’re kind of forced to things that you wouldn’t normally do centrally in terms of having to overlap players, kind of create more space.”
Perhaps the brightest spot of Shipp’s first season came when he netted a hat trick against the New York Red Bulls on May 10. But Shipp said it was not a clear-cut top moment.
“The hat-trick game was obviously special,” Shipp said. “But I think, not even in the regular season, just playing that first preseason game and getting a goal and having the first time in an actual scrimmage playing with the guys that I was going to play with for the rest of the year [was just as special].”
After a blazing start, however, Shipp did not record a goal or an assist from mid-July to mid-September, a run that saw him dropped from the starting lineup.
“I think my body got worn down a little bit physically, and when that happens, you kind of break down mentally,” Shipp said. “But I went into the season knowing there would be ups and down and that it wouldn’t be perfect. … There were a couple of weeks where I wasn’t playing my best soccer, but I thought I responded in the last month or two of the season”
Being Chicago’s first homegrown star
When Shipp signed for the Fire in January, he started the process of becoming one of Major League Soccer’s first homegrown stars. As Shipp played with the Fire’s youth teams earlier in his career, he was eligible to forego the MLS Superdraft and sign for his hometown team. The Lake Forest, Illinois, native said he cherishes playing for the team he grew up rooting for.
“It’s definitely special,” Shipp said. “I remember going to games with my sisters and parents when I was younger, and my club coaches growing up were ex-Fire players. … It’s kind of crazy now that there’s guys on our team that I’ve been watching for eight, 10 years, and it’s kind of weird to be playing on the same field as them.”
Shipp said that playing in Chicago keeps him from feeling too much pressure.
“I was so familiar with the city and the people there that it took the pressure away from actual soccer practice and even soccer every day because I had a life outside of soccer,” Shipp said. “So for me, I enjoy that because it lets me just stay relaxed and not put so much pressure on myself when I am playing.”
And as for what Shipp thinks of his prospects of playing for the national team someday?
“Obviously, that should be every American soccer player’s dream if they’re playing professional soccer … but it’s not something I think about on a daily basis,” Shipp said. “It’s one of those things that’ll be the next step in my career when I hit that path. I’m not ready right now, but hopefully in the next few years I’ll keep improving and growing as a player, and one day, I will be ready, and hopefully then, stars align to make it work out.”