When the Philadelphia Union acquired midfielder Justin Mapp on Monday from Chicago, the club provided a talented, young player with an opportunity to jumpstart a career that has lost steam over the last season and a half.
It wasn’t too long ago that Mapp was considered one of the league’s elite midfielders. The speedy winger racked up eight assists in each of the 2005, 2006 and 2008 seasons, earning MLS Best XI honors in 2006, a recognition of the league’s best eleven players.
Especially considering the Union didn’t part ways with any of the current players on their roster, it’s hard to argue against adding a 25-year-old with immense upside.
"I've known Justin very well for a long time,” said Union Coach John Hackworth. “I go back with him to the U-17 program for residency. I've worked with him a lot going back to when I was with the National Team. I think he's a solid acquisition. It's a move which I think can strengthen us.
“This could be a move which can spark his career. You don't always know what's going on with another club. For us to get a young player with a lot of talent, we feel is a very good thing."
While Mapp forged a number of close relationships in his nine years with the Fire, he too is excited for a new opportunity. The midfielder also likes what he sees in his new club.
“I know a couple of the guys, and I know (Manager) Peter (Nowak) has done a good job with them and I’ve seen a couple of their games and they play pretty well, despite not getting all the results,” Mapp said at training. “Even when we played them in Chicago I thought they were a very good team. Hopefully we’ll do well the second half of the season.”
One thing Mapp has to look forward to is a flurry of home games at PPL Park down the stretch. He won’t have to wait long to get acclimated to his new surroundings, as the Union take on New England this Saturday at 3:30pm.
“The games are apparently pretty rowdy and the fans get into it so it can only help us playing at home,” said Mapp. “It’s always good to play in front of hostile fans, especially when they’re on your side. It definitely adds a little bit of excitement to it and with the new stadium, it should be really good.”
As for Mapp’s role with the club and whether or not he’ll see starting minutes from the get-go, he seems content to defer to the technical staff.
“I’ll see where Peter wants me and where he wants me to contribute,” Mapp added. “(I’m looking to) help the team any way I can by being dangerous and a complete player. I just want to fit in and play my role, whatever Peter sees that being.”
Especially Roger Torres and Shea Salinas nursing themselves back to full health, Mapp and recent signee Eduardo Coudet may be just the injection of depth, experience and skill the Union need to start strong in the second half of the season.
Hackworth, for one, is confident about the club’s outlook.
"I'm feeling good about where we are as a group in our expansion season,” he said. “We're getting stronger as a unit. I know we have a lot of room for improvement, and we're working very hard to get there.
“I think we're in a good position here with 16 games left and a lot of games at home. With those majority of games at home, we look at it as a major positive for the team. If we can keep improving, hopefully we'll put ourselves in a position to make a push for the postseason."