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.
Dear, Chicago. Took some time to compose myself and write down my thoughts in the attached notes! pic.twitter.com/kH0gG67Bhm
— Harry Shipp (@championShipp11) February 13, 2016
“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.
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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.”
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.