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What the Sounders are getting in Harry Shipp

Anybody got some minutes for an American enganche?

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Chicago Fire Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s note: Sean Spence is the managing editor at Hot Time In Old Town. Shipp, of course, enjoyed two productive seasons with the Chicago Fire before being traded last offseason to the Montreal Impact.

Let’s keep this so terribly honest as to be terrifying. So, confession: Almost everything I’m about to say I’ve said before, probably more lyrically, in this piece entitled ‘Harry the Hook.’

Second confession: I’m writing the second of these pieces in as many years, and I really, really didn’t expect to have to write one ever. If I’m completely honest, I thought Harrison Shipp was becoming a guy who played his whole life for the Chicago Fire before moving straight into the executive suite. (No, seriously. I still think he’s got club president in his future.)

Harrison Shipp, attacking midfielder

Shipp features a skill-set that’s almost a mirror-image of the archetypal American attacker. The first thing that you’re likely to notice is his first touch - when he’s on it’s not only soft, it’s productive. It leads him into space or becomes the first half of a new one-two. It’s the first foundation of his game. Poor first touches generally mean Harry’s either exhausted or completely off his game.

The second foundational element of Shipp’s game is his vision. The kid plays with his head up, and if he’s got people around him making smart runs, he’ll imagine clever ways to put them in a scoring position. He’s relentlessly creative, seldom falling into mental ruts like the dreaded ‘always a through-ball’ virus.

Shipp passes well with both feet, keeps the ball well in space, and is willing to work for the team. He’s clearly not a physical force, but he does win his share of challenges, usually through superior anticipation and the ability to dribble in tight spaces. And his service on set pieces can be achingly good - the Fire wasted so, so many raking Harry corners through the box in two years, it makes my head hurt.

Then there’s the other part of the mirror. Most of what Harry lacks is physical - he’s not big, not very quick, not very fast - but all those could be just interesting aspects of his game, were it not for his Achilles heel: He ain’t got the stamina.

Unfortunately, Shipp has come of age in the second decade of the 21st century, a time when the primary tactical innovations call for players who can sprint every 30 seconds for 90 minutes. In Chicago, we watched Shipp frankly work his ass off to improve his base levels of stamina, but still he struggled to be a productive player for 90 minutes while filling any kind of defensive role whatsoever.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. Harry would gamely carry out his tactical orders, hustling to pressure, bustling about, but it was possible to see the life simply drain out of him in the process. What’s more, once he’s tired, he’s pedestrian. Harry’s gifts are creative, and creativity is the kind of higher brain function that just sort of recedes over the horizon when exhaustion comes into play. It’s over there, somewhere, but you can’t see it.

Another aspect of Shipp’s game is blunted by the all-action style favored today - the scheming. If given license to wander from defensive stations, he uses his time to move about in the attack, observing and measuring the defender’s reactions and touches. It was that sort of in-game scouting - where he’d seen Kosuke Kimura evade pressure the same way multiple times - that led to his delightful swoop-and-score for the hat trick against Red Bulls in his rookie season:

My best guess how it’ll go

It’s just possible that Shipp could return to the role he played most of his time at Notre Dame - that of the super-sub, the guy who comes on with 35 minutes left and changes the narrative. That role seems tailored for his skill-set, as he’d have 55 minutes of in-game scheming prior to appearing fresh against tired, mentally sluggish foes. Harry’s lack of ego also means that, if he feels integrated and part of the group, he wouldn’t bristle at a lesser role.

Best-case scenario

Shipp finds another gear in there somewhere and sprays assists all over CenturLink.

Worst-case scenario

Harry gets buried on the Sounders bench and spends the year just listening and watching. Eventually, he becomes President of the Chicago Fire and applies everything he’s learned.

A quick bit from our friends in Montreal

One of the issues with the Impact midfield last season was the number of players fighting for starting roles; there was a real log jam. When Shipp was brought in there was a hope that he could act as a creative/attacking force able to get the ball to Piatti and Drogba in dangerous scoring situations. Shipp seemed to have trouble fitting in alongside the more defensive midfielders Bernardello and Donadel when a lot more of the offensive responsibility was put on his shoulders.

It wasn't just Shipp last season that had a hard time finding consistency, it was the entire midfield.

I would have liked to see Shipp have another shot in Montréal because there were moments you could see the potential and the skill. I think at the end of the day Montréal is looking to get bigger in the midfield and having a player making Shipp’s salary on the bench was a bit much for Biello and the Montréal front office.

John Richan, Mount Royal Soccer

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