Shaun Maloney is headed to Scotland. David Accam has also Ghan-a way for a couple games. Mike Magee is still on the mend. All of these tribulations have intersected at the Chicago Fire’s first double-game week of the season, starting with a road game against Eastern Conference leading D.C. United.
What appears to be a monumental challenge from a fan perspective is a monumental opportunity for Harry Shipp. Never before has the sophomore midfielder been more poised for a truly head-turning run of form.
With a full season under his belt, Shipp has displayed more of the cerebral aspects of his game, anticipating the moments of the match in front of him as shown by his three assists. He had six in all of 2014. He has shown the patience and composure to not only be a creator but a finisher as seen by the golazo against Montreal Saturday.
But outside of the legendary Complete and Utter Destruction of New York in 2014, Shipp has not garnered the consistent national attention or consideration of U.S. Soccer heads that a player of his talent generally should. He has seen Rookie of the Year awards slip away to Tesho Akindele. He has seen the national team not only unsuccessfully court the likes of Akindele ahead of him, but he has also been passed by on numerous occasions for a player like the NASL’s Miguel Ibarra.
Even within his own club, he has been restrained. Shipp has had to concede space and chances to Maloney, who also patrols the real estate where Shipp feels most comfortable. At other times, Shipp has turned to Accam in moments of pressure to use his speedy weapon to get out of a jam.
This week there will be no Maloney to share with or Accam to help. Shipp can take all the space he wants and in moments of pressure he will need to be even more creative and take more responsibility as less attractive outlets surround him.
Shipp has been sailing a bit undetected. This week, Shipp can shout what we in Chicago have heard clearly.
His opportunity starts on the road against the class of the East. Shipp will get his chance to shine against one of the finest defensive midfielders in the game – D.C. United’s Perry Kitchen. Should Shipp be able to best Kitchen, he still has a backline anchored by rising star Steve Birnbaum to unlock and USMNT goalkeeper Bill Hamid to beat. Needless to say, creating offense without Maloney, Accam or likely Magee against that defense in their own home would be a true accomplishment.
After the test against D.C., Shipp will get to experience the other end of the spectrum as he goes toe-to-toe with Kaka in a battle of creativity. Knowing Kaka will look to dazzle at Toyota Park, Shipp has the opportunity to outplay the Brazilian legend and put up highlights of his own.
Should Shipp lead the Fire to victories in both of these upcoming matches, it would be his greatest professional achievement to date. But soccer is the ultimate team game and Shipp will still need help.
Questions abound in the midfield. Surely Shipp will have Kennedy Igboananike to pick out up top after the Nigerian’s best game with the squad. But who will make the overlapping runs and midfield switches with Shipp? I’d like to see Joevin Jones move up on the left side for these pair of matches and perhaps Michael Stephens on the right. There is of course the mysterious Victor Perez who could make an appearance or a surprise midfield assignment for Magee.
Regardless of the teammates, Shipp must make the most of these circumstances. For two games, he is the undisputed franchise player. The man. Lifting his depleted team to consecutive victories could lift his own career to new heights down the road. Being a part of winning efforts but not the catalyst would be worthy of fan praise but would do little for his national stature. Losing would be a squandered opportunity.
This is your week for the taking Harrison Shipp and all hands are on deck.