When Philadelphia Union acquired midfielder Justin Mapp from the Chicago Fire on July 26, the club knew they were getting a talented player. Mapp’s playing time and productivity had decreased, with the U.S. international seeing less than half the minutes in 2009 as compared to 2008. But the 2006 MLS Best XI member was only one season removed from registering eight assists, a mark he hit three times over a four-season stretch. Not to mention he came to the Union at age 25 despite being in the league since 2002.
If the last two matches -- a 2-1 comeback win vs New England in which Mapp set up Jack McInerney for the equalizer and then tallied the winner in extra time, followed by a 1-0 victory over Chivas Guadalajara that saw the same combination produce the lone goal -- are any indication, the trade to Philadelphia was just what Mapp needed to get back on track.
“He has been very, very good,” Union Manager Peter Nowak said Wednesday night. “It is not just that Justin was always very good with the ball at his feet, but also he tried to find the little holes between the lines. He is very active. He goes inside, he goes outside. This kind of game makes him very dangerous, and on top of this he’s helping our defense too.”
was criticized by some when he was with Chicago for not being a complete
player, but Nowak and his technical staff seem to have a strong understanding of how
to maximize the midfielder’s multitude of talents.
“We try to encourage him that having the ball on his feet was always his game, but that the full package is a little more demanding,” Nowak added. “We try to show him that you can also be very active and sufficient in going forward, interchanging positions, and finding good spots.
“We put him in against New England as a midfielder and he scored from the center (of the field). Today he made an assist almost from the right position, and we put him as a left midfielder. This kind of play, interchanging positions and trying to find the holes in the lines and pop up in different spots like we did with Sebastien [Le Toux], I think it is going to improve his game tremendously.”
Mapp’s vision and passing ability have helped Philadelphia earn two straight wins. Evidently there’s a burgeoning chemistry between the fourth overall pick in the 2002 MLS SuperDraft and McInerney, the seventh overall selection in 2010.
“I just saw a little space, and he was making a diagonal run into it,” Mapp explained. “I tried to weight the ball well and give him a chance to get onto the end of it. Credit to him for the goal.”
While the sample size is still too small to thoroughly assess Mapp’s impact on the Union, he certainly appears to be reinvigorated. It helps that he’s comfortable in his new surroundings and excited about the opportunity that has been presented to him.
“You know, I’m happy and trying to do my job,” Mapp said. “Good win tonight, good atmosphere, and big game Saturday.”
Whether starting or coming off the bench against Kansas City this weekend, Mapp will attempt to continue proving his worth for a Union side that has seen 12 different starters in the midfield in just 21 league matches. If he continues to play like he has the last two matches, one starting spot may rotate far less frequently.