Shipp shaping up to be soccer star

Local Fire player showing spark on the field

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Harry Shipp, the amazing hometown rookie on the Chicago Fire being talked about as a possible Major League Soccer rookie of the year, had a favorite movie growing up as a kid in Lake Forest:

"Kicking & Screaming," starring Will Ferrell and Robert Duvall as over-the-top crazed North Shore soccer dads who coach their kids' teams.

Not that there's anything wrong with being a crazed soccer dad, as long as we set up the canvas chairs, sip our iced latte, keep our mouths shut and don't draw any attention to ourselves.

"I must have seen that movie a hundred times when I was a boy," Shipp told me in an interview the other day. "The parents, the kids, the snacks, soccer and Will Ferrell. I just love Will Ferrell."

His dad, Terry, like other soccer dads, lugged the canvas chairs and set them up on the sidelines. And then like many dads, he got up and paced alone. His mom, Kathleen, sat with the moms.

"The juice boxes for the snack at halftime, the canvas chairs, all that stuff. We're a soccer family," Shipp said. "From the first day, I must have been 5 years old, I've loved it."

I'm past the point of trying to persuade some of the stodgier sports fans to like soccer. Either they see the beautiful game or they don't, and if they don't, they're on the wrong side of history.

The world will be abuzz with soccer this summer, as the World Cup begins in Brazil, and the U.S. men's national team — without Landon Donovan — tries to get out of the terrifying Group of Death.

Donovan, once the poster boy of U.S. soccer, was cut from the national team Thursday. It was foreshadowed, and many soccer fans expected it, but it is heartbreaking. Age is ruthless, especially to athletes, but Donovan deserved a spot on that team.

Shipp is no Donovan. They're in different universes now. But this young player interests me. He has the mind for the game.

He's always been an exceptional student of soccer and an exceptional student in school. He recently graduated from Notre Dame, where he helped bring the school a national championship. And he takes with him a degree in finance and a 3.88 grade-point average.

He has an apartment in Lincoln Park.

"I've never really learned the city, learned downtown, but now I drive it and walk it and I'm learning," he said. "My friends from (Lake Forest) high school are coming home from college now, and friends from Notre Dame are returning. We're all going to be together. And I'm playing soccer at home. I feel very fortunate."

Shipp, 22, isn't counting on stardom. He says all he wants to do is improve his game week to week. But there is a Chicago Fire poster of Shipp on Fullerton Avenue at a stop for stadium buses moving fans from pubs to Toyota Park and back again.

That poster shows him on the field. It's an action shot. But there's one thing that's missing.

"My head," he said, laughing. "They cropped my head off. So I'm not getting famous."

You might not recognize his face from that poster, since his head is missing, but you just might want to remember his name. And you should go out to watch him play.

At only 5-foot-8 and a skinny 150 pounds, Shipp isn't some physical specimen of awesome power and speed. He's not all muscle and dash. He doesn't scream at referees, and he speaks in complete sentences in interviews.

But there's calmness about the rookie, a quiet when the ball comes to his feet. It's almost as if the game slows down for him.

I saw it in his first game against the hated Portland Barbarian Psycho Lumberjacks, or whatever they call themselves. He's started every game since. All he did in Portland was send perfectly arced passes through the air, and others of perfect weight along the ground.

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