Major League Soccer has grown exponentially in recent years.
Through the introduction of the Designated Player rule, increased investment in youth development and the infusion of Targeted Allocation Money, there are simply more, better players plying their trade in MLS. Add in the influence of ambitious expansion clubs like the Sounders, Atlanta United and LAFC, and the league is in an entirely new era.
As the league has grown and evolved, so too has Sounders FC midfielder Harry Shipp.
“Even in my six years [in MLS], the quality of the league has gotten so much better,” said Shipp. “For me, as the league has grown [and] the number of quality foreign players has grown, being able to keep pace with that is something I’m personally proud of.”
Shipp, 28, burst onto the scene in MLS as a Homegrown Player for the Chicago Fire in 2014, tallying nine goals and 14 assists across his first two seasons. After a brief spell with the Montreal Impact in 2016, he joined the MLS Cup champion Sounders the following year.
Shipp’s first season in Seattle coincided with the introduction of TAM, a spending mechanism that allowed clubs to effectively double their salary cap. But as spending has increased each season, Shipp has matched it by upping his production and influence on the team’s style of play.
“I’ve seen all these people that I viewed as peers – especially when we were in high school and college – and people have started to retire or drop out and I’m still standing,” he said. “That’s something I’m really proud of.”
Although he played only 1,382 minutes in 2019, he posted five goals and three assists, making it his most productive year since 2015. They were important contributions, too, as he notched the equalizer against the San Jose Earthquakes, grabbed the game-winning goal against Atlanta United and scored a brace in the 3-3 draw with the New England Revolution.
Beyond the statistics, he had yet another season in which he proved himself to be an intelligent, tempo-setting midfielder capable of thriving in Seattle’s possession-oriented system.
“I love Harry Shipp,” Sounders FC Head Coach Brian Schmetzer said a preseason training at Starfire Sports. “You know why I love Harry Shipp? Because when I put him on the field, I know exactly what I’m going to get out of Harry.”
Back in 2014, Shipp was emblematic of the Homegrown Player system. A product of the Chicago Fire Academy and University of Notre Dame, his breakout performances in his first two seasons for his hometown club symbolized the future for a professional pathway in MLS.
Fast forward six years, and that landscape has undergone tectonic shifts. Top prospects from MLS youth systems are now getting integrated into USL sides and First Teams as young as 15 years old.
Shipp and Tacoma Defiance winger Shandon Hopeau competing in training in California | Josh Lavallee
Having made the transition from talented DA player to MLS Homegrown himself, Shipp has taken on the responsibility of guiding the next generation.
“Integrating some of the new guys that we have has been fun,” said Shipp. “I like instructing and I like teaching. So, having those guys here, I’m doing my best to help them. It’s something I’ve enjoyed.”
According to the three Sounders Academy players in camp with the First Team – Chris Hegardt (18), Ethan Dobbelaere (17) and Alex Villanueva (17) – Shipp’s mentorship has been incredibly beneficial.
“Before the preseason even started, we did some sessions with Harry,” said Hegardt. “He’s a super nice guy, and he’s always trying to help us get better. We really appreciate it.”
MLS has taken massive steps forward since Shipp entered the league in 2014. Not only has he been able to develop and keep stride with the league, but he’s playing an important role in shaping its future.