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Player Spotlight: After emotional move from Chicago, Shipp quickly adapting to new life with Montreal Impact

MONTREAL — Two weeks after being traded to the Montreal Impact from his beloved Chicago Fire—the team he supported as a child and the one he began his career with—Harry Shipp no longer feels any of the shock that he first felt when he received the news on his cell phone, from his agent, that he would be leaving. Having quickly settled with his new teammates, the 24-year-old midfielder says he’s ready to move on.

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“For me there’s no point in dwelling on the past,” Shipp told Goal Canada. “For me I’m focused on my career here with Montreal now. Soccer wise hopefully it continues to be a great fit for me on the field and that everything works out for the best. For me it’s definitely about being 100 percent all in on the field right now.”

Whether Chicago fans are ready to move on, however, is another matter.

A native of Lake Forest, Illinois, a town just a one-hour drive north of Chicago, Shipp was the player most loved by the supporters. And it was because he was easy to love. Having been coached in his teens by Chicago legends Frank Klopas and Hristo Stoichov at his local youth club and regularly attended Fire games in MLS since he was a boy, Shipp felt a deep connection to the club. He was later brought up through the Fire’s academy and after graduating from Notre Dame, he signed a homegrown contract with the club in MLS. He wasn’t the first homegrown player to sign—he was the third—but he was the best that had been produced up until that point, the player with the most potential.

In his two seasons with the Fire, which coincided with the club’s worst since its inception in 1997, Shipp was a rare bright spot the fans could enjoy, a player through which they could look to the future with hope. But a change of technical leadership following last season’s last place finish meant a different vision was going to be instilled and Shipp was viewed as a player who could be dispensed with.

The trade sparked outrage among Fire fans on social media, who scathingly questioned the direction that new head coach Veljko Paunović and GM Nelson Rodriguez were taking. The fans’ anger and incredulity was only intensified after Shipp, himself devastated by the move, described his sadness at having to leave in an impassioned letter to the fans on his Twitter account.

Shipp says he’s now accepted the move and hopes that the fans will get behind the Fire in this period of transition.

“I met with Nelson [Rodriguez] and Pauno[vić], and they just said for them it was a business decision,” Shipp said. “And I respect that. I’m a professional player. I’m not naïve about the business of it. I have more emotional ties to Chicago and I was genuinely sad at first to be leaving, but I never had any bit of anger towards the club, because I understand that in soccer things are going to happen. The only thing I can do now is make sure I make the most of this situation and play as well as I can here in Montreal, because I’m not going back to Chicago right now.

“My time there until I got traded, especially with the changes of the GM and coaching staff, and honestly I think they’re totally capable. And if I would say something to the fans, having worked with those guys for a few weeks, I trust 100 percent the direction of that club. And even if I wasn’t the best fit for what they wanted to do there, I think they have a vision and it’s not going to happen overnight. I think they have a set system and vision for what they want on the field. I have faith for the sake of the fans that they’re going to be able to achieve that with the Fire.”

Shipp hasn’t had the chance yet to start looking for a place to live in Montreal, but says he already feels at home with the Impact. The team’s 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 tactical setups suits him well, as he will have a chance to play in a more withdrawn role behind the main striker.

“I think the reason why this team suits me pretty well right now is that were playing three in the middle and I think that’s something that’s always been of interest to me,” he said. “That fluidity, where you’re not always a second striker, and being able to come deeper and get the ball, and to have that freedom to find those pockets, the half spaces between the other team’s defenses and midfield lines. For me the interchange, with (Ignacio) Piatti coming inside, and the freedom to roam outside, and to go where the game allows me to go.”

Not wasting any time to get the midfielder integrated into the squad, Impact coach Mauro Biello had Shipp start in all four of the remaining preseason games following his arrival, where his influence was felt immediately. Over the past few seasons Montreal has struggled in keeping possession and Biello explained that Shipp’s presence should ameliorate that aspect of the team’s play.

“I think Harry has come in and adapted very quickly,” Biello said. “He brings that quality of being able to play that final pass and he’s a guy who’s really good under pressure in tight spaces to get out and see things very quickly. He’s another guy that’s able to play in the middle or out wide so he gives us a lot of flexibilities with his qualities, but it’s the profile that we want; someone that wants the ball and someone who’s very good in buildup and in possession.

“I think he can play as an offensive midfielder and in a three man midfield; I think he can play as a wide player out on the left or out on the right; he’s someone that’s very flexible. He’s very intelligent. When you have a player who’s very intelligent like that you can move him in different positions.”

The Impact will face Chicago on April 16, a date that Shipp has already circled on his calendar, but not for the sake of planning to avenge his old club for letting him go. He’s accepted the fact that his life has taken a different turn.  

“I circled it more for the fact that I’m going to see some old friends and family again,” Shipp said. “I think for me we're on two separate paths now. As much as I was on one path with the club for a long time, now were on two separate paths. And I don’t think anything I do should reflect on their decision to let me go and I don’t think anything that they do should reflect on how I was as a player there, honestly. That’s kind of how I feel about it. That’s my way of moving on and coping with it.”

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