The subject: Harry Shipp sparked a furious race for his services when he completed his four years at Notre Dame. The former Hermann Trophy finalist and reigning College Cup MVP eventually bypassed the SuperDraft and signed a Homegrown deal with the Fire in January. The pact has worked out well so far for both parties: Shipp adjusted quickly to the rigors of MLS and established himself as a regular starter for the Fire in the early stages of the campaign.
Inside MLS caught up with the Rookie of the Year favorite (six goals, five assists in 21 appearances) after he played 45 minutes in the Homegrown Game last week.
How has your rookie year gone so far? From a distance, it looks like you have adjusted well after making the transition.
Shipp: “It’s still ongoing. I’m just trying to build every day. I think, coming into preseason, my goal at first was to compete for a spot in the 18. That was my first goal: I wanted to dress.
Once you’re able to play, you raise the expectations for yourself. You want to start every game, play every game and play as much as possible. After I was playing consistently, it was like, well, how do I contribute to goals? How do I contribute on the field? Once I started getting some assists, it was about how do I score some goals.
Everything has been a process. It didn’t all happen in one day. It didn’t all happen in one game. It’s all happened in the course of 20 games or so. Now I’m still trying to build and we’re trying to make a playoff push now. I’m trying to help the team out.”
How are you trying to find your place? And how have the guys helped you to find your place?
Shipp: “I think I had to find a niche. I knew it was going to be hard to get on the field, especially in the middle, as a rookie. I came in (from Notre Dame) always playing as a withdrawn forward or a center mid.
I’ve worked to learn a new position, playing outside. I knew that if I wanted to play in this league, I was going to have to become more versatile to get on the field.
We have a lot of guys who are older, who have been in the league, who are veterans. They’re going to get on the field, they’re going to get a chance. Since I was able to prove in preseason that I was able to play outside, I got opportunities in regular season games. I showed well. And I’ve been able to keep it going.”
MLS director of player personnel Alfonso Mondelo highlighted Shipp as the type of player he hopes to see come through the ranks more frequently after watching him play in the Homegrown Game last week.
How have you adapted your game to earn time outside?
Shipp: “It’s different. I think, a lot of times on the outside, it’s more one-versus-one. You’re more isolated, which is totally different than what I am used to. I had to get better defensively one-versus-one, I had to get better attacking one-versus-one.
Also, the places you show up for the ball are totally different. When I’m playing on the left, I’m trying to start wide and then come in, where as tonight (during the Homegrown Game), I was able to start in the middle and play in the middle.
It’s still where I’m most comfortable. Even though I’ve played this whole year outside, I played the previous 15 years in the middle. So that’s kind of where I prefer to be, but I’m working (on it). I might end up playing outside for the rest of my career. You never know.”
Where are you finding your spaces now?
Shipp: “It’s all about thinking ahead. When I see the ball in the back and we’re trying to build, I have a good idea of where the ball is going to go based on patterns. That’s what happens when you play the game since you’re four years old: You kind of know what’s going to happen next and where defenders are going to shift. Once you have a good idea of where those defenders are going to be, then you can go to the other spaces.”
Where are you focusing as this year to help continue the strides you’ve made so far this year?
Shipp: “For this year, honestly, the only thing on my mind is to get into the playoffs. I think that’s one thing we’ve been striving for. I’ve been on good teams my entire life. I’ve never been on a team that has struggled quite like we have this year.
It’s different. It’s hard to come in every day not coming off wins. It’s tough. That’s one thing I’ll learn in my career: You’re not going to be able to win every week in this league. It’s about how you bounce back from it. We have games left in this season to help turn it around.”