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Season Review: Justin Mapp

Editor’s note: PSP is running season reviews for each Philadelphia Union player — one per weekday for the next few weeks. You can read all the reviews here.

Preparing to kick with his left. (Photo: Paul Rudderow)

When Justin Mapp was acquired from Chicago on July 26, it was to fill an immediate and pressing need. It was hoped that Mapp could add width to the Union’s chronically narrow play and he did well over the second half of the season to spread the ball and create chances, scoring one goal and assisting on four. In his eight seasons in MLS, Mapp’s technical brand of soccer has helped him to three eight-assist seasons, and in 2006 he was honored with an inclusion in the MLS Best XI. He has been capped eight times with the senior men’s national team after having come through the U.S. ranks playing with the U-17s and U-20s.

While he is by no means a traditional winger with chalk on his boots and an ability to stretch a defense with his pace, Mapp has brought ingenuity and class to a Union midfield that struggled to turn hard-earned possession into meaningful attack. His veteran play and field awareness have worked to unclog the Union midfield from within, punctuating tightly controlled passing with the type of service that opens up the game for a team that wants to be unrelenting in their attacking style of play.

2010 statistics

15 games (10 starts). 855 minutes played. 1 goals, 4 assists, 11 shots (5 on goal). 7 fouls caused, 12 fouls suffered. 1 yellow card.

High point

August 28, 2010. Trailing 0-1 on the road against New England, Mapp entered in the 65th minute and proved to be the game changer. Late in the match, after beautifully controlling a cross, he turned on the ball, lofting an inch-perfect cross into the path of Jack McInerney, who calmly smashed into the back of the net, drawing the scores level. Following this momentum-turning play, the Union went hunting for a winner and, after some classic Sebastian Le Toux ball-chasing, the ball was laid back to Mapp, whose shot sliced through a sea of bodies in the box and nestled itself in the side netting. Final score: Union 2–1 Revolution.

Low point

His time in Chicago. While he enjoyed many productive seasons with the Fire, his final two will not be remembered in a positive light. As his level of play grew and improved, he was thought of more and more as the Fire’s rising star, and Mapp was asked to play more centrally. This change in positioning did not suit him and he fell on lean times. Perhaps it was the emergence of Marco Pappa as the creative force at Toyota Park that was the final straw that facilitated his move to the Union.


His excellent left foot. Whether it is a weighted through-ball, a subtle chip or a crunching shot on net, Mapp has the technical ability to do everything required of a midfield creator with that left foot. In a Union side that struggled mightily with its free-kick service, Mapp will be able to work through the offseason on providing a dedicated left-footed option over the ball.

In addition to his much-praised technique, Mapp also possesses the vision and intelligence to play the game with his head on a swivel. Surrounded by a contingent of hard working, ball-winning midfielders, Mapp often serves to add purpose to the Union’s strong possession game. He sees the entire field, from the runs up the line to big switches of field and the lanes through a defense, allowing him to dictate play and open up the game. Unfortunately, these are all attributes prized in a central, creative player, a role that Mapp seems destined, like it or not, to occupy.


His right foot. It seems absurd that a player so cultured with one side of his body could be so utterly useless with the other. Yet it is painful to watch as he makes darting runs, dribbling time and again with only his left, eventually to be denied by a defender who has studied the predictability that creeps into the game of a player whose options are limited by a deficiency that is so glaring as Mapp’s. When he runs the right wing, he will cut back into the middle, onto the left foot. Like clockwork. And defenders have come to know it and expect it.

He also lacks the speed of a true wing midfielder. While his vision and service are often exceptional, Mapp’s continued inability to beat anyone off the dribble leaves question marks about his effectiveness in the wide game. Pairing him with a speedster like Sheanon Williams overlapping from fullback can mask this concern. But at a certain stage Mapp’s game may need to evolve to a place where he can exist in the middle of the field, away from the speed lanes out wide.

Thankful for the opportunity. (Photo: Nicolae Stoian)


Despite being a veteran of eight MLS seasons, Mapp is still only 26 and he looks primed to play another eight. If left unprotected in the expansion draft, he’ll be gone in a heart beat. Sometimes all a player needs to rediscover his best form is a change of scenery, and the newly planted turf at PPL Park has suited him well. While he may have been deemed surplus by Chicago, Justin Mapp has a lot to offer the Union and, given an entire offseason to thoroughly immerse himself in Peter Nowak’s system, he should only improve upon what was a positive second half of this season.

For now, living life on the right side of the Union midfield suits many of the strengths of his game as it allows him the opportunity to work from the outside, into the heart of the field where he can use his excellent vision to serve the ball into dangerous positions. With Sheanon Williams overlapping from deep, and Le Toux and Mwanga attacking the box, it would not at all be surprising to see Mapp go on an early tear in 2011, serving up goal-scoring opportunities for the forwards who, too often this year, were left to fend for themselves.

(Cover photo: Paul Rudderow)


  1. Not that I’m making a comparison in terms of skill, etc, but Mapp’s tendency to ONLY use his left foot immediately makes me think of Robin van Persie who always cuts inside so he can take a shot using his preferred foot. I’ve never seen the Dutchman use his right foot, ever. Or maybe Mapp’s more like Daniel Day-Lewis in the movie “My Left Foot”.

  2. “Perhaps it was the emergence of Marco Pappa as the creative force at Toyota Park that was the final straw that facilitated his [Mapp’s] move to the Union.”

    –Or perhaps it was the imminent arrival of Freddie Ljungberg, whose signing was announced by the Fire shortly after Mapp was dealt. They not only had an extra midfielder to spare, but they likely needed the allocation money to cover Ljungberg’s contract.

    • Could be. I think, more than anything, that Chicago just went underwent a wholesale revamping this season that probably didn’t need to happen. They were 1 PK away from the MLS Cup last year. Then they lost Blanco, Chris Rolfe and Gonzalo Segares (temporarily), fired their coach, and brought in 2 DPs who will probably be viewed as failures in Chicago. (Ljungberg may go back to Europe.) Carlos de los Cobos also cleaned out some players that really didn’t need to go, like Jon Busch.

      Either way, it was clear it was time for Mapp to go. The only question was whether he was the problem or the Fire were.

    • Good point Scott. Gives you an idea of just how stale things had gotten that they looked at Freddie Ljungberg as an upgrade. That guy is a cancer on this league, can’t wait for him to be gone.

  3. Mapp with the Union was like smelling bacon, but not eating it. Except for that Revs game. I thought he would eviscerate defenses with the dribble after his first game, but he got less and less aggressive the longer that the season went. I hadn’t thought about the one foot weakness being part of that- but how much of a weakness is it- Robben plays that way- and he’s amazing.

    • Mapp played a little bit less agressively as he settled in, but his passing and chemistry with other players got better, not worse. I don’t want Justin running at players, playing back to goal, trying to make people miss. Thats often a recipe for him to get frustrated, tired, and lose possession. He sees the field well, he has inch perfect passing, let the kids do the running – just set the table.

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