After a tough season in Montreal, in which he honed his cooking skills to help pass the time, Harry Shipp has fit in with the Sounders from the beginning.
Anybody thinking Sounders midfielder Harry Shipp sizzles on the pitch hasn’t seen him away from it.
Shipp can bake, grill, poach and broil when handling his cast iron cookware and assorted kitchen gadgets. He hails from a close-knit Chicago-area family, where his mother’s side was Italian and encouraged large family meals. Shipp, 25, with help from some professional cooking classes, learned to handle himself in the kitchen as adeptly as when he’s outfoxing opponents with a soccer ball.
That came in handy last season after his hometown Chicago Fire traded him to Montreal, a city where Shipp spent lonely months isolated in his apartment by cold weather and a language barrier. The 2014 MLS Rookie of the Year finalist admits being “crushed” by the trade and that his longtime girlfriend, Maria Kosse, couldn’t legally work in Canada and remained behind in Illinois.
“I was living alone, so it was a comforting thing,” Shipp said of his cooking. “It killed time. It was one of those things where if it took an hour to cook something good, it made the night go by faster.”
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Shipp is thrilled he was traded here in December for allocation money. Kosse, now his fiancée, joined him this week after transferring to her company’s Seattle branch. The Sounders, in turn, feel fortunate to have landed a player considered a rising league star only two seasons ago but now with his third team in 13 months.
The elusive Shipp, only 5 foot 9, 145 pounds, forced his way into the starting lineup two games ago, coincidentally, in a match at Montreal, and should start again Saturday when the Sounders play Mexican side Necaxa in a friendly at CenturyLink Field at 7 p.m. He scored his first Sounders goal last Sunday in a 3-1 win over the New York Red Bulls, redirecting a Joevin Jones shot after impressing with his improvisational play throughout the match.
“I feel more comfortable than I did last year,’’ Shipp said. “Both on and off the field.’’
Shipp led a charmed soccer life up to the day before Valentine’s Day last year, when the Fire traded their homegrown star for allocation money in a move that infuriated the team’s fans. He’d been raised in the Chicago suburb of Lake Forest, oldest of four siblings, playing for local youth teams and the Fire’s academy before nearly winning the Mac Hermann Trophy in 2013 while teaming with his younger brother, Michael, to lead Notre Dame to its first national title.
His mother, Kathleen, had also attended Notre Dame – about a two-hour drive from Chicago – and the family remained close throughout as their son, dubbed “The Wizard” by Fighting Irish coach Bobby Clark for his foot magic with a ball, took the program to new heights. When Shipp turned pro, the Fire fought to keep him as a homegrown player instead of him entering the MLS Superdraft.
Shipp scored seven goals his rookie 2014 season to become a fan favorite on a terrible team. He added three goals and a team-high eight assists in 2015 and was voted No. 6 on the MLS 24-under-24 list.
But the team finished last. They brought in a new general manager and new coach, Velijko Paunovic, who decided Shipp didn’t fit his system.
Shipp, believing he was still in the team’s plans, flew home after February training camp in Tampa and immediately headed to a restaurant with Kosse for an early Valentine’s celebration. But Paunovic called with news of Shipp’s trade to Montreal before they’d even sat down.
Shipp started crying and couldn’t stop.
“It took me way longer than I wanted to get over it,’’ he said.
His family was equally floored. His mother called the Fire’s offices and cancelled her family’s season tickets. She peeled Fire team stickers off her car.
She’d watched Shipp, much smaller than other boys, dominate sports from the time he’d picked up a golf club at age 3. Shipp played tennis a bit and in sixth grade, the local pro begged him to enter a tournament.
Shipp made the final against a boy two grades higher and twice his size. His opponent smashed the ball as hard as he could, but Shipp kept returning slow lobs over the net.
“The other kid got so mad that he just started hitting the ball out because he tried hitting it harder and harder,’’ his mother said. “And Harry ends up winning.’’
What Shipp lacked in size, he had in smarts. Especially in soccer, which he’d started playing in kindergarten.
“He just seems to see things before they actually happen,’’ his mother said.
After his first soccer workout, Shipp asked whether there was soccer on TV. His mother found a Mexican league game in Spanish on satellite TV.
“He sat there the whole game and did not move,’’ she said. “He watched the whole game in Spanish. He figured out what he was supposed to do.’’
Before college, his mother gave Shipp and his siblings cooking lessons. Her family had been into huge meals while Shipp’s father, Terry, had brothers in the restaurant business. She wanted her kids having basic skills for daily eating.
“We went through some basic cooking techniques and flavor profiles so they could change it up, use it different ways,’’ she said. “I just thought it was important that they weren’t eating fast food all of the time.’’
The siblings became proficient cooks. Shipp texted his mother photos of meals he’d prepare. His friends bought him utensils, cookware and even pro lessons. Shipp saw it as bettering himself.
“That’s something I’ve always tried to do,’’ he said.
Shipp posted a 3.88 grade-point-average as a finance major at Notre Dame. He still reads the Wall Street Journal and watches CNBC to keep up with the business world.
The Sounders were as impressed by Shipp’s intellect as his soccer and feel they mesh. His foot skills have dazzled on a team where possession is valued above pure speed.
“I was tiny and played a lot of sports, but soccer was just the one where I could get away with being small and doing other stuff,” Shipp said.
Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey hails from Chicago and his contacts there vouched for Shipp’s maturity and character. Lagerwey understood Shipp’s disarray at leaving his home for a predominantly French-speaking Montreal, where young American players sometimes have difficulty adapting.
Shipp feels better for last year’s struggles. “It was the first time in my life something didn’t go my way,” he said.
The adversity helped him better appreciate currently starting for a defending league champion. He’s now got a December wedding planned the week after the MLS Cup final – just in case.
Shipp’s food and cooking interests have taken him to local eateries like Toulouse Petit and Bounty Kitchen in Queen Anne. He and Maria plan to try How to Cook a Wolf in Queen Anne and Rione in Capitol Hill.
“I feel more settled now,” Shipp said. “And when you feel settled off the field, it helps you focus and play better on it.’’