Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Harrison Shipp and the High Road to the Promised Land

Their rituals remain...strange to us.
Player interviews provide interested, even eager, fans with some of the dullest content they will ever read. Even if 99% of athletes possess a seemingly impossible talent for sucking life out of clich├ęs, a reader gets lucky sometimes. It could be the interview features a player from the blessed 1% implied above. Or maybe a reporter frames a question just so. For example:
"Last time we spoke you talked about the broader perception that American players lack the ability to play in a creative midfield role. How much does your desire to change the perception of American creativity motivate you and how much added pressure do you feel when you’re in that position?"
 88 (Eight-by-Eight)'s interviewer, Robert Kehoe, put that question to the Chicago Fire's Harrison Shipp. Shipp only confessed to "loving" the pressure of carrying the "creative player" torch for America’s Young Turks, but he didn't elaborate. That seems a shame what with how that question gets at everything from player development to larger issues like soccer in these United States and even the Jurgen Klinsmann Project.

 That Americans can't "play" play soccer nags at the national psyche; it is our collective childhood trauma. Everyone also agrees that "play" exists in some Platonic form; some even claim to have seen it done, most often by men wearing strange uniforms made of broad blue and red vertical stripes. The animating assumption of Klinsmann’s tenure is that he can bring us closer to this ideal by teaching players how to play, and to generally "take the game" to the other side by way of some elementary tactical upgrades. The team and country will buy this education at the expense of some unknown number of results. It hasn't been tested yet, really: a five game skid had plenty (present company included) begging for the U.S. Men’s National Team's (USMNT) to revert to the ol' tried-and-true against Panama (missionary position, anyone?).

As it goes with country, so it goes with club. The pre-Panama anxiety provides a very workable parallel to Chicago's apparent 2014 project of setting an unbreakable high-water mark for draws. The problems are a little different in that, even if reasonable people can argue about exact height of the ceiling, the U.S. does have a formula that works; Chicago, on the other hand, set out to buy potential solutions by bringing in new players.

To get back to Shipp, elsewhere in that interview he talks about possession as being "a big part" of his game. It's a question, then, of whether those new players (David Accam, Kennedy Ignoananike, Shaun Maloney) can collaborate with Shipp in a way that will allow him to play and develop his game. The larger question – one so close to Klinsmann's heart that he interjects it into chats about the weather – is whether Shipp can find that level with any MLS club, or even within MLS at all. We also know how Klinsmann would answer that one...

The way Shipp talks about the game – and, at times, plays it - certainly sounds like the foundation for a better style of play; failing that, it at least employs the correct buzzwords. And all the above assumes that, on some level, Shipp is that guy. Like most people, I'm willing to give him time and space to figure it out. How willing? Well, ever hear about how the U.S. Supreme Court defines "porn"?

All kidding aside, that's the question that needs to be answered. I mean, how else do you do it? All I can say is I'm working on it. And I don't matter. That's an important reminder, too.

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