Chicago Fire midfielder Harry Shipp garnered some well-deserved praise following his team’s 5-4 victory against the New York Red Bulls on May 10. The rookie and homegrown player tallied his first three Major League Soccer goals and he assisted the game-winner to also earn MLS Player of the Week.
Shipp is not the biggest or fastest player on the pitch, but his technical savvy and comfort with the ball more than make up for that. For the former Development Academy player for the Fire and Chicago Magic PSG (Chicago Magic AS Monaco during Shipp’s tenure), these elements of the game truly shone at an early age.
“I would travel with a bunch of guys for an hour or hour and a half each way to play for the Magic and Fire,” said Shipp, who hails from Lake Forest, Illinois, north of Chicago. “Those four or five times a week when we trained were important. They were competitive sessions, and for me, the technical work was incredibly important. I’m not a big or fast guy, and I really was able to get good with the ball.”
Shipp’s youth stint traces back to the Chicago Wind, then the Magic and Fire in the Academy, all the while under the guidance of coach Sole Antonijevic at each club.
“Coach Sole knew how to get the most out of his players,” Shipp said. “For some other coaches, it is all about winning, and there might be a place for that at certain levels. But at the ages of 15, 16 and 17, it’s important to develop players and help make them better technically. I followed along with him because I wanted to play for and play with the best.”
Looking back on that stage of his play, Shipp says he values what the Academy level provided in furthering his career.
“I loved it,” Shipp said. “I was first in the Academy as a U-16, and before that time you were playing in a lot of games that weren’t as meaningful. But in the Academy, you had the best teams from around the country, and they prepare you. There are not any easy games. Going through that, it makes for a much better transition if you are going to college or turning professional.”
For Shipp, there could have been an opportunity to delve into the professional realm after his Academy play. Instead, he made a personal decision to focus on his academics while starring at Notre Dame.
“Obviously as a homegrown with the Fire, I was always interested in an opportunity to move up with the organization,” Shipp said. “I made it clear that I wanted to wait until I knew I was ready. For me and the things going on in my life, I wanted to finish my education and get my degree. I wanted to make sure I was pro-ready, and I’m asked all the time, ‘did you expect this type of start [in MLS]?’ I felt I was ready, and thankfully I have been able to contribute.”
On March 16, Shipp became the first Fire homegrown player to make his MLS debut when he played the full 90 minutes on the road against the Portland Timbers during a 1-1 draw.
It served as a significant starting point for Shipp, who took all eight corner kicks against Portland and has been an integral focal point in set-piece situations all season.
“Offensively, you start to feel things out and over time you develop good relationships,” Shipp said. “In the first game, it’s more about focusing on playing good defense. Then the offensive part of the game comes and you’re able to connect well with guys like Mike [Magee] and Quincy [Amarikwa] up top. I’ve stayed focused and it’s been exciting.”
He currently leads the Fire with four assists and his three tallies are second on the squad behind Amarikwa following the big performance against New York.
“Going on the road and getting our first win was big. That was probably the best part of it,” Shipp said. “The fact that I was able to contribute to the team win on the field was something you always want to do. So from a personal point of view, I think I’m getting into a good rhythm and staying calm with the ball.”
As a homegrown and Academy alum, Shipp has enjoyed seeing the youth development from his MLS perspective.
“It’s awesome playing for the team that you rooted for as a youth player,” Shipp said. “You’re seeing a lot more guys come through the Academy, and MLS has a growing fan base. I’m kind of witnessing all of this firsthand. For me 10 or 15 years ago, games were not on TV all the time and we weren’t seeing certainly players on a regular basis. Witnessing the growth has been special for me.”