New Fire GM Nelson Rodriguez has made wholesale changes to the club's roster in his first year at the helm, but on Saturday morning Rodriguez may have made his biggest move to date.
Saturday, the Fire traded Harry Shipp to the Montreal Impact for a combination of both general allocation and targeted allocation money.
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Shipp became the Fire's third Homegrown Player in franchise history in 2014 after a standout collegiate career at Notre Dame. Shipp tallied seven goals and six assists in his MLS rookie season, and finished second in the MLS Rookie of the Year. His numbers dipped to just three goals and eight assists in his sophomore season in 2015.
“Pauno and I met with Harry on Saturday to give him the news,” Rodríguez said in a statement from the club. “Harry is a homegrown player and an obvious fan-favorite, which makes this trade more emotional than most. However, we believe this trade will prove to be beneficial for our club and for Harry’s career.”
The lack of a player in return likely means the Fire's offseason moves aren't as close to completed as it may have seemed in the past week. The roster appeared to be solidifying after the Fire's preseason camp in Tampa, but Shipp's exit could mean more moves are on the way before the March 6 season opener.
Collin Fernandez, who turned 19 on Saturday, could be in line to receive more playing time at the attacking midfield position. Fernandez, also a Homegrown Player, has just one MLS appearance in his career. In addition, the Fire likely wouldn't move a player of Shipp's caliber without receiving a player in return unless the money received was going to open things up for another player to come in.
Once the move becomes official, Shipp will become the first Fire homegrown signing to play for another MLS club. Shipp was also one of just two players on the current roster to have been with the Fire since the start of 2014. Now only Sean Johnson has been with the Fire since the start of the 2014 season.
Rodriguez has said multiple times throughout the offseason that adding an international central midfielder to the Fire was the second priority after acquiring center backs. International players Joao Meira and Johan Kappelhof have come in at center back, but no foreign midfielders have been added. On Jan. 14, just after the MLS SuperDraft, Rodriguez referred to the type of midfielder that the Fire were looking for was "very hard to find domestically." That implication always sounded like an attacking midfielder given the lack of playmakers in the American player pool.
After the final two rounds of the draft on Jan. 19, Rodriguez clarified the team's position on central midfield.
“If and when we close the center back spot we want to address central midfield," Rodriguez said on Jan. 19. "Now again, we’ve got some great in-house options, Harry Shipp, Matt Polster, Drew Conner, but those are very young players so we’d like to add veteran presence in the center of midfield as well to help us. That scenario we’ll be looking at. We’ve also had some young international players that we’re spying quite closely who we think have great potential and could fit in well with what we’re doing."
Perhaps the Shipp trade signals the move for one of these young international players to join the Fire.