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.”

WATCH CHICAGO vs. NEW ENGLAND LIVE ONLINE, RIGHT HERE

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.”

Report: USMNT keeper Steffen to be Man City No. 2 next season

Zack Steffen Man City
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United States men’s national team starting goalkeeper Zack Steffen will not be loaned by Manchester City next season, according to ESPN.

Steffen, 25, is set to back up Ederson for Pep Guardiola’s side next season after a year on loan to Fortuna Dusseldorf in the Bundesliga.

Steffen needed the loan because he had not yet qualified for a work permit in the United Kingdom. Instead, he starred in plenty of games for promoted Fortuna before suffering a nagging knee injury. Fortuna was relegated to 2.Bundesliga on the final day of the season.

[ MORE: Man City sets a very Pep record ]

There were rumors earlier this year that Claudio Bravo might head for New York City FC in MLS in order to make way for Steffen.

The 17-times capped USMNT bolted for Freiburg in Germany after making his name at the University of Maryland. He returned to the U.S. and became a star with savvy penalty-stopping ability with now-USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter and the Columbus Crew.

Guardiola has usually given his No. 2 plenty of time to shines in cup matches, and City expects to compete for every trophy it can. If the club’s European ban is upheld, however, there will far fewer matches on the schedule for the serial Champions League qualifier.

Sheffield United – Chelsea preview: How to watch, start time, stream, prediction

Sheffield United - Chelsea preview
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Sheffield United – Chelsea preview: Frank Lampard’s Chelsea begins life defending third place on the Premier League table when it visits Sheffield United at Bramall Lane on Saturday (Watch Live at 12:30 pm ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

The Blues’ 60 points are one more than Leicester City and two clear of old rivals Manchester United.

Also of interest to Chelsea and USMNT fans: The Blues have posted a 20-minute video of every Christian Pulisic touch since Project Restart began earlier this Summer.

Sheffield United beat Wolves at midweek to pull within a point of sixth-place. If Blades stumble, there are three teams within a win of pushing them back beneath the Europa League places.

STREAM SHEFFIELD UNITED – CHELSEA LIVE


Team news

Billy Gilmour is a doubt for Chelsea while Mateo Kovacic is back in training and could be available to Frank Lampard. N’Golo Kante remains out and Jorginho may get a Starting XI recall on Saturday.

John Fleck, Luke Freeman, and John Lundstram are out for Sheffield United while David McGoldrick is a question mark.

What they’re saying

Blades boss Wilder to our own JPW after a 1-0 win over Wolves: “We like to think we’ve brought something in terms of our attitude and our performances to get the results that we’ve got. We had a stretched squad and really had to dig in to get a result. I don’t think you get the result and the performance tonight if you haven’t got something with the ball and I think we did have something with the ball and out of it everybody did a job and tried to stop a very, very talented side from gaining momentum and dominating us. Second half, especially, we looked and it felt like we were really desperate to go and get a winner. Regardless of how late its come, we’ve been rewarded for that attitude.”

Chelsea’s Frank Lampard on Christian Pulisic earning Eden Hazard comparisons: “Having played with Eden, he had special talent straight away and draws players towards him to open up space to others. Christian is more direct. He has the ability to break a line and run forward which is a great trait in the modern game. Why I shy away from it the other night is because Eden has been here and done it over a period of time to an incredible level. Christian has it in his hands to make a real impact over time. It’s great to see him [doing well] but there’s a lot of development to come. Christian is taking responsibility to change games.”

Odds and ends (Full matchweek odds here)

The Blades are +575 underdogs according to DraftKings, with Chelsea -167.

A two-goal game for Tammy Abraham was only enough for a Chelsea point at Stamford Bridge when the sides met in a 2-2 draw earlier this season.

Prediction

Chelsea’s had one more days’ rest than the Blades and that seems plenty given the congestion this time of year. Give the Blues a 2-1 win.

How to watch Sheffield United – Chelsea

Kickoff: 12:30 pm ET Saturday
TV Channel: NBC
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Man United’s fear factor, title hopes return

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Manchester United have regained their fear factor since ‘Project Restart’ arrived.

The Red Devils beat Aston Villa 3-0 to become the first team in Premier League history to win four consecutive games by a margin of three of more goals.

[ MORE: New PL TV schedule ]

Manchester United is an attacking juggernaut once again with Mason Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford firing on all cylinders.

They are 17 games unbeaten in all competitions and this run means they are two points off third place and one point off fourth-place Leicester (who they play on the final day) as their quest for the Champions League looks likely to be successful.

Speaking after the game, Paul Pogba told Sky Sports that challenging for the Premier League has to be the standard Manchester United sets for itself.

After the win at Villa, ProSoccerTalk asked Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for his reaction to those comments.

“I’m sure Man United will mount a challenge and get back to winning the league. When that is going to happen, that is up to every single person here and how quickly we can make this process go. We are definitely improving as a team, developing but we have to remember we’ve come a long way in one season. Let’s just take Paul’s words into the dressing room and expect and demand more from each other every single day,” Solskjaer said.

This team is brimming with confidence and hunger, as they’ve scored 100 goals in all competitions this season and have playmakers and forwards who are creating 10 or 15 chances every game and have a largely sturdy defense.

When Manchester United turn up to play an opponent, there is now an inevitability they will win. Solskjaer knows all about that fear factor from his playing days, but does he feel other teams now fear them again?

“I don’t know about how teams feel when they want to play us but we scored three today and talking about goal difference, the defenders have done their job. We created chances and could have scored three, four or five more. Of course, you are happy with the way we create chances but we need to be more clinical though,” Solskjaer told ProSoccerTalk.

“Coming into half time 2-0 up, I don’t think our performance warranted a 2-0 lead but I thought second half we played really well. Of course we had the game where we wanted. They had to press and leave gaps and space but it is not easy, there is game after game  after game. We have to keep doing the right things on the pitch and off the pitch.”

Manchester United could easily finish this season by winning eight of their final nine games and it is these results against teams they ‘should’ be beating that will make the difference. Yes, they have a long way to go to reach the levels of Liverpool and Manchester City but they are on that path and making progress.

Since Sir Alex Ferguson retired the fear factor around Man United disappeared. Almost overnight teams felt like they could beat them, and did, under David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho.

There have been shock defeats under Solskjaer too, but this feels different now. This feels different to brief winning spells and FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League trophies won under LVG and Mourinho.

This Man United side is relentless and Solskjaer not only wants to keep winning, but keep scoring goals too.

“We could have scored many, many more goals and we keep keeping clean sheets. We go into every game wanting to win. If you win 1-0, 2-0 or 3-0, it doesn’t matter, you get the points. Hopefully the goal difference won’t be the deciding factor in the end because we should have had 10 more goals the last few games,” Solskjaer said.

With Leicester City to come on the final day of the season in what could be the pivotal clash in deciding whether or not the qualify for the Champions League, the hunger and belief is evident among the Manchester United squad based on Pogba’s reaction.

“We are really pleased with ourselves but know we have to carry on. We talked before the game, we talked in training that we have to carry on. That’s what Manchester [United] is it is a big club. We want to keep the level up, always, and the performance today and the past few weeks, they are very good and they are the standards of Manchester United,” Pogba said. “We didn’t win the Premier League and that is the goal. We didn’t win anything this year. We have to keep working and there is a lot to do. A lot.”

Pogba: Manchester United hoping to win FA Cup, Europa League

Aston Villa - Manchester United recap
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Paul Pogba and Manchester United are cruising through matches and sending a message to the Premier League.

The Red Devils won by three-or-more goals for the fourth-straight match, something that hasn’t been done in the history of the PL, and moved within a point of fourth place thanks to a 3-0 demolition of Aston Villa at Villa Park on Thursday.

[ RECAP: Aston Villa 0-3 Man Utd ]

Injured for most of the year, Pogba scored his first goal of the season in the win. He’s been looking tremendous in the midfield since returning from the coronavirus pause, and has even triggered hope that he’ll sign a new long-term deal with United.

Pogba was asked how he’s feeling about his time at Old Trafford and where it may run:

“Right now I’ve been injured for a very long time,” Pogba said. “I focused on myself to get back and help the team as much as I can. This year I have two goals, to go for the Europa League and the FA Cup so we focus on that.”

United faces Chelsea in the FA Cup semifinal and has one foot, well, most of its body in the Europa League quarterfinals.

The Frenchman says it’s good that the Red Devils are playing as well as they have been, but he’s not getting carried away with accolades.

ASTON VILLA – MANCHESTER UNITED FULL MATCH REPLAY

“We didn’t win the Premier League,” he said. “That’s the goal. We didn’t win anything this year so obviously we have to keep working. There’s a lot to do.”

Pogba thinks United can achieve all of their season goals regardless of what the top four chasers do, but cautioned that the Red Devils cannot ignore their poor start to Thursday’s win.

“We are our own enemy. We have to play not like we did the first 15 minutes but how we finished the game.”