A literal ocean separates them in location and a metaphorical one separates them in potential. But the expectation and unadulterated sense of optimism Julian Green and Harrison Shipp have brought to the fan bases of the USA and the Fire, respectively, crescendoed in the most harmonious of ways in the past week.
First, the 18-year-old wunderkind from Bayern Munich told the country of his home club to beiseite rücken when he announced he would play for the United States of America from now until the end of time (or whenever his world-class athleticism begins to fail him, whichever comes first.)
Thousands of miles away from the bright lights of Allianz, the first-ever Chicago Fire homegrown player took the field at Toyota Park. A blip on the radar in the soccer universe, but a big old beacon of light for those in the Chicago soccer world. Unlike Green, Shipp did not make waves with an announcement - he made it with his foot.
Not even 10 minutes into making history just by stepping on the pitch, Shipp delivered a corner kick right to the head of Jeff Larentowicz who made no mistake and finished the job. The pass inspired even more frenzied optimism within the Fire faithful as fans quickly spread word of its greatness. He followed it up with more crosses that were as deadly as the first though no goals followed. Still, it was enough to have Fire fans call Shipp's crossing skills some of the best that has ever been seen in the club.
In Green and Shipp, we have two men with great expectations from their fan base. How those fan bases handle those expectations will go a long way in defining both their careers.
When the words potential and soccer are mentioned in the U.S. in the same sentence, the name Freddy Adu usually is not far behind. The outpouring of hype over Julian Green has spawned a counter-development, warning people of jumping the gun as they did with Adu - while still other pundits (who may be just counter-culture hipsters who always go against popular opinion) are saying Green is just not THAT good. They saw that band before it sucked - that sort of thing.
Soccer is supposed to be fun, right?
Sure, I feel for Adu. I think he got a bad rap because of the expectations we as fans and media put on him. But I do not apologize for the hype. It is the hype and belief in what could be that warms us on a 30-degree day in Toyota Park. I would have gladly sat in that cold for another 90 minutes, daydreaming of what is to come as Shipp flashes brilliance.
Where checks must be put in place is when those crosses go a little high and wide and miss their mark as they surely will at times this season. Or when Green shanks a scoring chance for the national team one day. Those mistakes will likely be worthy of criticism but not vitriol. Both Shipp and Green are young and deserve the chance to fail and learn without being labeled as a bust or thrown under the bus too quickly. When they succeed, they are deserving of hyperbolic praise because they possess the talent, marketability and instill hope that most players do not. When they fail, though, hyperbolic criticism is not needed.
It's not fair to those players who are punching bags and take more criticism when they struggle and less praise when they succeed. But not everyone is Julian Green. Not everyone can be the Fire's first homegrown player.
So when Shipp plays the way he did Sunday – on a day when it is far too cold and the result is not everything we wanted – we should praise it wildly and enjoy it fully. It's OK to be an optimist.
Am I saying Julian Green is going to win the U.S. a World Cup? No. But I also wouldn't be surprised if he rode into camp on a giant bald eagle with fireworks that exploded out of the tail feathers.
Am I saying Harrison Shipp is going to be the greatest Fire player ever? No. But I also wouldn't be surprised if he crosses the ball to himself off a corner kick next week and bicycle kicks it in (right over Eddie Johnson just to make it hurt a little more.)