Just over three months ago, Justin Mapp started and played nearly an entire match against his future club. On Saturday, he’ll face his former club, the Chicago Fire, for the first time.
Traded to the Union on July 26, the former MLS Best XI member has assimilated admirably since joining the expansion side, bringing a dimension the club had previously been seeking. The 25-year-old has showcased an ability to beat opposing midfielders and defenders along the flanks with pace and creativity, as well a capacity to cut inside to create passing lanes and dribbling seams.
Over Philadelphia’s last three matches in all competitions, Mapp has exhibited the form that prompted his status as one of the elite midfielders in MLS in his early 20s. A game-winning goal and three assists in less than two full matches worth of minutes appear to be early signs that Mapp has rediscovered his swagger after seeing dwindling minutes as his tenure in Chicago came to a close. Of note, Mapp’s numbers with the Union compare favorably in less minutes to those of Freddie Ljungberg's with the Fire, who effectively brought in the Designated Player as a more expensive replacement and presumed upgrade.
Despite the less-than-ideal ending, Mapp harbors no resentment towards his former club, instead focusing on embracing the challenge of starting anew in the middle of a season.
“I enjoyed my time in Chicago,” Mapp told philadelphiaunion.com on Wednesday. “I had great teammates and great support there. You never expect to get traded, but in this league it can happen at any moment. I wasn’t really all that shocked. Still, switching clubs in midseason is not easy. Coming here, the guys were great in making me feel an immediate part of the team. I have very fond memories of my time in Chicago.”
Perhaps one reason Mapp has adapted so well to his new surroundings is familiarity, as counterintuitive as that may sound. The winger has found his former and current sides to be comparable to one another in a number of ways, making the transition relatively seamless.
“Not a whole lot,” he said when asked about any differences he’s found thus far. “It’s all very similar. They are two very well run clubs from what I can see, from my long time there and my short time here. Great fan bases for one thing. Not a whole lot different from what I can see. I feel lucky because the coaching staffs in Chicago and here in Philadelphia are great. I had a similar experience with respect to teammates in both places.”
For a player like Mapp, it didn’t take long to get used to the uptempo, attacking style of play that has fast become a trademark of Manager Peter Nowak’s squad. That doesn’t mean, however, that he didn’t leave close relationships behind.
So who is Mapp looking forward to seeing on Saturday?
“Pretty much all of them,” he said. “I had some form of relationship (with everyone), obviously some longer than others. You know, Logan Pause and Calen Carr and people like that, so it will be weird but good to see them. I definitely had some good friends and still have some good friends from that team."
Personal relationships aside, though, it’ll be all business for Mapp when the two clubs step out on the pitch.
“I want to win the game first,” he said. “We need the three points. I think after it’s over, I’ll have a chance to catch up with some of the guys. They were great teammates.
“I’ve been here long enough now to get comfortable with everything. This game doesn’t really have any extra special meaning to me. Yeah, I’m playing my former club. We need to get a win, so it doesn’t really matter who it’s against. I just happened to play for Chicago. It will be nice to see the guys. My goal now is to help the Union win as many games as possible.”