Source: USA Today

Homegrown star Shipp hoping to guide Chicago to first win of 2014

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EXCLUSIVE — On Saturday the Chicago Fire welcome the New England Revolution to Toyota Park (Watch live on NBCSN, 4 p.m. ET and online via Live Extra) with the hosts still searching for their first win of the 2014 Major League Soccer season.

Yet, that doesn’t tell the whole story.

After defeat on the opening day, new Chicago coach Frank Yallop’s has seen his side battle to five-straight draws as the Fire have come close time and time again to recording their first ‘W’ of the current campaign.

Despite no win in six, encouraging signs are there for all to see as Homegrown midfielder Harrison Shipp explains.

“It has been up and down, the last couple of game especially. Our last game up at Montreal, we played our best game of the season by far,” Shipp said. “It was our most complete game, we dominated possession, shots and every key stat. We played really well and probably should have been two or three up before they got their one good chance and they scored. It is all about building. It is a long season. We have a new coaching staff who are getting a hold of our strong traits are as a team and playing towards those. Even though we’ve had five-straight ties, the last couple of games have been really positive for us.”

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Shipp, 22, hails from Lake Forest, Ill. and has been a member of the Chicago Fire youth program and the Premier Development Team whilst he played out a stellar college career at the University of Notre Dame. I first came across the diminutive attacking midfielder in 2010, during his Freshman year of college, and even then you could tell the buzz and hype about Shipp was worthy of a future MLSer.

His play has translated effortlessly from leading the Fighting Irish to their first-ever NCAA Division I soccer championship last year, to the professional scene. A real box of tricks and able to drift in between midfield and attack, Shipp’s size at 5 foot 9 makes him a true playmaker able to open up the meanest of opposition defenses with a flick of his boot or swivel of the hips. Shipp explains that Chicago, and the Fire, are close to his heart.

“I have grown up here all my life” Shipp said of Chicago. “I went off to Notre Dame but that is still close enough that I would train with the team in the summer and play with the PDL team. I have been connected with the club for a long time, so it is great to reach that peak of being in the first team.”

Now he is in the first team, Shipp has yet to taste defeat as a member of the Fire squad in the first five games of his MLS career… he has yet to taste victory either. That’s something he and his teammates are working on ahead of their clash with New England this weekend.

“They are a good team. They have a lot of creative and technical guys in the midfield,” Shipp said of New England. “They like to go forward but hopefully we can exploit that by counter-attacking and there will definitely be spaces in front of their back four and hopefully in behind their back four to let us run in on goal.”

(MORE: Latest MLS standings)

What about this Chicago team? Under new coach Yallop, plenty of youngsters like Shipp and 20-year-old Benji Joya on loan from Santos Laguna have been given the chance to start and influence games from midfield. Their style is developing and with a possession based game preferred by Yallop, you can already see a new era being ushered in on the banks of Lake Michigan.

source: AP
Shipp, right, captained Notre Dame to their first-ever NCAA title in college soccer.

“We have guys who can pass through the midfield, guys who are willing to buy into a system, play simple and get in those good spots to find the pockets in-between midfield and defense,” Shipp said. “Then we have Quincy [Amarikwa] up top who is just going to battle until he drops. We are creating a lot of chances, we haven’t gone scoreless in any game this season and we had scored plenty of goals. Now we are just focusing on cleaning up some defensive things. We have given up a lot goals on set-pieces, so not giving up one in the last game at Montreal was a positive. Building off that and cleaning up those small details, we will figure out how to win some games.”

As for how Shipp plans to help with that, we’ve already seen from early glimpses in the Fire uniform that the Homegrown star can get on the ball and get things going.

Shipp has added two assists during his five starts, against D.C. United and New York, and plans to keep laying chances on a plate for his teammates.

“My goal going into every game is to create chances,” Shipp said confidently. “Whether that be in open play or from set pieces or shots I take myself, if I can create three or four good opportunities every game I am doing my job as a midfield player. Up until this point it has been pretty good, hopefully I can build on that and get some goals and more assists.”

With Shipp explaining the difference between the college and pro game as the increase in speed and being “forced to think farther steps ahead before you get the ball,” you sense he’s relishing the challenge of stepping up to the big leagues.

Remembering how Shipp played when I saw him during his college days four years ago, I asked him if any players in particular have shaped his style. One player sprung to my mind before I asked the question, Shipp’s answer reaffirmed my thought.

“My favorite player for a while has been Andres Iniesta from Barcelona,” Shipp said. “I’ve tried to model my game to be something similar and obviously not just like him, but I admire what he does on the ball and the way he plays. So he is someone I have really looked to.”

After a bright start to his career in MLS and with many keeping an eye on the hugely talented attacker rolled off the Chicago Fire production line, you’ll likely be hearing Shipp’s name for many years to come. With MLS veterans like Mike Magee and Jeff Larentowicz around to keep an eye on him, (Shipp praised Chicago’s veteran core for helping out their younger players) Shipp is in good hands.

What about this season and Chicago’s hopes of making the postseason? Shipp is optimistic the postseason can come to town during his Rookie campaign.

“I wasn’t on the team last year, but they were so close to reaching the playoffs and a lot of the guys are back,” Shipp said. “It is one of the things you strive for every year and I think we could have had four or five wins from our games up until this point but we feel unlucky and given up some set piece goals that shouldn’t have gone in. We do think the playoffs are a realistic goal and hopefully we do achieve that.”

After January camp, USMNT looks to rosters for World Cup, Olympic qualifying

at StubHub Center on January 31, 2016 in Carson, California.
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The United States men’s national team finished its experimental January camp with a 2-0 record, and now trains its eyes on World Cup and Olympic qualifying.

The last part is critical not just because of the ramifications of a potential second-successive Olympic absence for the men’s U-23 side.

[ USMNT: Tops Iceland 3-2 | Knocks off Canada, too ]

The Yanks have to deftly divide their player pool because March 25 and 29 are not only the dates for the next round of World Cup qualifying matches — a home-and-home series with Guatemala — but also the dates for the U-23s’ pair of matches with Colombia.

That’s why Jordan Morris isn’t likely headed to Guatemala City, and the same is true for impressive January camper Jerome Kiesewetter and new Chelsea defender Matt Miazga.

[ JPW: Recapping the top stories from an intense Premier League weekend ]

Bobby Wood, John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin are also eligible for the U-23s, but there’s the rub. All three are in good form for country, and only Yedlin isn’t playing well for his club (That’s because Sam Allardyce isn’t using him much at all. His substitute appearance against Liverpool was his first action since Jan. 9).

New England midfielder Lee Nguyen impressed Jurgen Klinsmann during January camp, and it’s hard to ignore the impact of Steve Birnbaum’s goal and assist.

Assuming health, here’s our best guess at who’s making the squad for Guatemala on March 25 and 29. It’s worth noting that six MLS clubs play on March 26 (NYC, New England, Vancouver, Houston, DC and Dallas):

Goalkeepers: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson

Defenders: DeAndre Yedlin, John Brooks, Matt Besler, Steve Birnbaum, Geoff Cameron, Brad Evans, Jonathan Spector, Tim Ream

Midfielders: Fabian Johnson, Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Danny Williams, Lee Nguyen, Darlington Nagbe

Forwards: Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Gyasi Zardes, Bobby Wood, Aron Johannsson

Report: Atletico’s Fernando Torres has interest from MLS, NASL

Real Madrid v Atletico de Madrid - Copa del Rey: Round of 16
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Spanish outlet Marca claims that a number of North American sides are among the clubs chasing Fernando Torres.

The Spanish striker has only scored more than 11 goals once since 2009-10, and is uncapped since 2014. But that doesn’t mean clubs from China to to the U.S. and the UAE to Japan aren’t interested in the 31-year-old.

[ JPW: Recapping the top stories from an intense Premier League weekend ]

The Marca report claims three MLS teams are interested and also name drops the New York Cosmos of the NASL, who’ve recently brought Venezuelan legend Juan Arango on board.

It’s hard to imagine anyone outside the MLS rich sides taking a risk on Torres. Maybe Montreal would look to reunite him with Didier Drogba, and Torres certainly has experience combining with New York City’s David Villa. As for the third… Orlando City? Chicago?

Your guess is as good as ours, though it could be moot if this is solely about money. China continues to spend well.

Difficult fixture run looms as Aston Villa aims for great escape

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - JANUARY 12:  Joleon Lescott of Aston Villa (3L) celebrates with team mates as he scores their first goal with a header during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Crystal Palace at Villa Park on January 12, 2016 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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Gabriel Agbonlahor is riding high, as the Premier League Player of the Week broke his duck this weekend and is thinking “great escape” for his Aston Villa side.

Villa has eight points in its last five matches, doubling its season total to 16. That’s still table bottom, but Remi Garde’s bunch would love to see their way out of the drop zone after a brutal start to the season under Tim Sherwood.

What would it take for Villa to pull that off, and avoid the first Premier League relegation in club history?

[ MORE: Premier League Team of the Week ]

Turns out, a lot.

There is no easy match in the next five, and Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal are all on the schedule after that.

Villa next five matches
Feb. 14 – vs. Liverpool
Feb. 27 – at Stoke City
March 1 – vs. Everton
March 5 – at Manchester City
March 12 – vs. Spurs

The Villans do have three relegation six-pointers left, and two of those are at Villa Park with Bournemouth and Newcastle United. Villa also heads to Swansea City.

But Villa has to make up 12 points on the Cherries, 11 on Swans and eight on the Magpies. And while they are within two goals difference of Newcastle, they have eight goals to make up on Bournemouth and 11 to make up on Swansea.

That doesn’t include Sunderland and Norwich, sides four and seven points ahead of the Villans (though both have tricky runs left as well).

If Garde’s club is to make its escape, it will be close to unbelievable. That it will close with a match against Arsenal makes it even trickier, but that would be just the final impressive note in what could only be considered a Garde-conducted masterpiece.

VIDEO: Recapping the top stories from an intense Week 25 in the Premier League

JPW at Stamford Bridge
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What a weekend. Let’s relive it.

Round 25 of the Premier League provided plenty more thrills, shocks and excitement as two unlikely title contenders — Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur — are pushing ahead.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Our own Joe Prince-Wright recaps all the major headlines from what could turn out to be a pivotal weekend in the Premier League title race.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League news

Click play on the video below to join JPW as he battles the elements and checks in from outside Stamford Bridge in London following Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United.