Trade emotional for both Harry Shipp and Fire fans


Trade emotional for both Harry Shipp and Fire fans

In professional sports, players leave and trades happen. That’s part of the business side of sports.

However, when the Chicago Fire traded Harry Shipp on Saturday, the business side caused some tears to be shed.

Shipp tweeted out a statement Saturday afternoon explaining what the Fire meant to him as a childhood fan of the team and thanked fans for his time with the club.

“When I was told out of the blue that I would no longer be a member of the Fire, I immediately broke down and started crying,” Shipp said in the statement. “It was totally shocking and overwhelming. This club and this city have meant everything to me. Not just for the past two years, but since I started following the Fire over 15 years ago. I know this is a business and nothing is personal, but this is inherently personal for me.”

Those words and feelings likely echoed throughout the fanbase. Take one look at the responses to the Fire’s tweet announcing the trade. It doesn’t paint a pretty picture.

[SHOP FIRE: Get your Fire gear here]

Shipp may not be the star fans thought he would be after a strong rookie campaign. He could also see his production skyrocket this season in Montreal with Didier Drogba leading the Impact’s attack.

Regardless, the reason many fans are probably upset is because Shipp represented something the Fire haven’t had enough of in recent years. He was a talented young player with local roots and on top of that was a genuinely nice person. Shipp was becoming the face of the franchise and, whether or not his play on the field warranted it, Shipp was the most well-known Fire player within Chicagoland.

When Shipp emerged as a star at Notre Dame, led the Fighting Irish to the national title in 2013 and became one of the top rookie prospects in Major League Soccer, it gave the Fire some much-needed buzz that he could sign as a Homegrown Player. After he was Rookie of the Year runner-up, Fire fans had a player to latch onto as someone to be proud of.

Everyone loves a local kid makes good story and the Chicago Fire had one of its own. As Academy players continue to sign with the Fire, and more are on the way, none have made the impact Shipp has had.

Fire fans have become skeptical in recent years. That’s what happens when a team makes the playoffs just once in six years in a league where more than half of the league makes the playoffs. Shipp cut through that to give the team and fans something positive and it’s hard to put a price on that. Yet, that’s exactly what happened on Saturday.

“Unfortunately all I was able to contribute was two of the statistically worst seasons in Fire history, and that genuinely breaks my heart more than you could imagine,” Shipp said. “I’m sorry that I was unable to do more for the city, because if anyone understands what this city deserves in a soccer club, it is me.”

[MORE: Paunovic praises Fire's young players]

The Fire don’t yet have something tangible to show for the trade of Shipp. That said, general manager Nelson Rodriguez is surely not ignorant to the situation. He knew what this trade meant and what Shipp meant to Fire fans. Rodriguez obviously believes this can make the club better.

A move like this is likely the set up to another move and that move may heal all wounds that Fire fans are feeling now. However, this signifies something else for Rodriguez. The patience he has had every right to ask for earlier this offseason just got thinner.

Rodriguez and coach Veljko Paunovic have put an emphatic stamp on the club before the season opener. This is their team. Of the Fire players currently on the roster, only Sean Johnson was with the team at the start of the 2014 season. Razvan Cocis, who signed midway through that season, is now the second most tenured player in the club.

It’s easy to explain why that kind of rebuild was needed for a team that has struggled for so long. However, Rodriguez stepped up with a bold move on Saturday. For his sake, and for Fire fans, hopefully it works out.

Fire sign veteran MLS forward Alan Gordon


Fire sign veteran MLS forward Alan Gordon

As far as notorious players in MLS with a history of scoring big goals, Alan Gordon is one of the first names on that list.

The Fire signed the 36-year-old forward on Friday, continuing to add depth to a roster that appeared paper thin throughout the preseason. Gordon, who had been on trial with the Fire for part of the preseason and even after the season opener, signed a one-year deal.

Gordon adds plenty of experience from being in the league since 2004 and having scored 55 goals with five different teams. For the past few years he has been used primarily as a substitute, but has still maintained his reputation for scoring goals late in games.

At 6-foot-3 he brings plenty of size and strength to the team and is one of the best players on headers in the league. Last season the Fire failed to score directly off a set piece, which was both due to consistently poor service from corner kicks and a lack of players adept at finishing them off. Gordon should give the Fire a late-game option in that area.

Elliot Collier had impressed the Fire enough to earn a contract as a third-round pick and an international player and even came off the bench in the opening loss to Sporting Kansas City, but it appears the team wanted more experience at forward with Gordon.

Wild season opener shows plenty of things to work on for Fire

Wild season opener shows plenty of things to work on for Fire

If you were looking for entertainment, goals, plot twists and storylines, the Fire’s season opener had all of those boxes checked.

What it didn’t have was even a point for the hosts against Sporting Kansas City on Saturday at Toyota Park.

The first half showed a Fire team which very much looked like the “incomplete” roster that general manager Nelson Rodriguez referenced just before the season. KC led 2-0 and the Fire failed to get a shot on target, showing a lack of chance creation and any semblance of a dangerous attack.

The second half showed a Fire attack which was capable of turning the heat up on the visitors, but also a defense which couldn’t defend. Sporting's 4-3 win revealed that there’s plenty of work to do for the Fire to resemble the team that finished third in the MLS regular season last year.

“Especially in the first half we saw that we weren’t ready to compete with a team that had an advantage that they had one competition game before us,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “That was the main difference in the first half, but the adjustment in the second half was tremendous. I think just showing that we can score three goals that quickly and create even more opportunities was a positive.”

However, Paunovic wasn’t about to let his team off the hook by only speaking about positives.

“What we learned today is that we have to get better on every side of the game and in every aspect of the game,” he said. “We are not there. We didn’t have a good game. I think overall a lot of innocent and naive mistakes.”

After trailing 2-0 at halftime, the Fire revved things up in the final 25 minutes and Bastian Schweinsteiger keyed the first goal with a slick assist to newcomer Aleksandar Katai. Nemanja Nikolic showed the scoring instincts and finishing ability that won him the league scoring title a year ago by scoring two more goals to give the Fire the lead in the 82nd minute.

Then it all fell apart, with two KC goals within four minutes of Nikolic giving the Fire the lead. Dax McCarty, your thoughts?

“You’re 10 minutes away from the headline and the storyline being Chicago Fire show great character, make a fantastic comeback, win the game 3-2 and yet here we are sitting here, somehow losing that game, which is insane,” McCarty said. “It’s totally insane.”

The defensive struggles, which Paunovic pointed out mirrored last year’s early playoff exit in a 4-0 loss, will need to get resolved internally. Johan Kappelhof, Brandon Vincent and Matt Polster all started on a competent defense last year and McCarty and Schweinsteiger helped play damage control in midfield. This isn’t what the weakness of the team was supposed to be yet after one game, it’s all anyone on the team could talk about.

“We gave up four goals,” Kappelhof said. “That’s not good. Simple.”

While more additions may be coming in-season, as Rodriguez has mentioned, and injuries haven’t allowed the Fire to start 2018 fresh, this game wasn’t a good sign for what’s to come for the 2018 Fire. A lack of any offensive creation in the first half and a lack of defensive concentration, as Paunovic put it, throughout the game showed a team that has plenty of pock-marks currently.

“We don’t know how to defend, quite frankly," McCarty said. "From back to front, front to back, the defending aspect of our game was pretty poor. A lot of things to learn."

The good news is even if the Fire take some time to correct the errors from Saturday’s season opener, MLS is a forgiving league. A majority of the league, 12 of 23 teams, makes the playoffs and league-wide parity means teams can go through slumps and still end in good standing. A year ago, the Fire lost six games out of seven and still had the third best record in the league. It’s OK if the team takes time to iron out some organizational issues defensively, just don’t take too long.