Words About Shapes: Harry The Hook

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Harrison Shipp is a different kind of attacker for the USA, but they'd know what to call him in Argentina

There’s this odd note of consternation in the early-season acclaim for our Harry Shipp, a sense that the national media would be all kinds of happy to trumpet the kid even more if he’d had the decency to be, y’know, a bit more athletic. And possibly taller. “I mean, he hardly runs out there,” you get a feeling some of the writers are thinking.

And it’s true - Harry is not a model of attacker the USA produces in droves. He doesn’t explode; he shifts. He doesn’t dominate; he bewilders. His first touch gives him unusual control in situations we are used to seeing as 50-50, and it settles the ball for his less-technical teammates to run onto. So many MLS possessions start with the ball bouncing from a popped first touch - then the bouncing ball is passed second time, popped, passed, never really rolling, never quite under control, a series of desperate lunges just harnessed by will. In Chicago’s possessions, at some point the ball comes to Shipp, and that stops. The ball is still. The game flows around him, and he moves the ball along - but it’s no longer bouncing; it’s doing exactly what he wanted it to do.

Culture’s a weird thing. If Harry had grown up in South America, not the north side, they’d’ve immediately known what to do with him. He’d have come through the River Plate academy as one of a proud line of catburglers and cutpurses, his instinct for anticipation honed to a gleaming edge. They wouldn’t have asked him to play much defense; just scheme, and pry, and look for space. They wouldn’t call him an ‘attacking midfielder;’ they’d call him ‘enganche,’ the hook, and they’d hang the entire attack on him.

Here, it’s different. Our palms get clammy when a man doesn’t run his legs down into stumps playing defense; the idea of conserving energy for crucial moments is under fire from several different think-tanks sponsored by the Koch brothers. Harry does his time in the Responsibility Mines. He covers space, he tries to tackle.

But his real job is the settling, the smoothing, the ideas. Where an attacking midfielder would dribble hard at a gap, the enganche takes a half-step to the side, revealing a whole different lane, through which the through-ball comes. His stillness leverages his teammate’s runs, puts them in contrast.

And to think he grew up on the north side. Some dreams do come true.

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