MONTREAL – Having started 15 of the Montreal Impact’s 16 MLS games this season, Justin Mapp is used to hearing head coach Jesse Marsch say that he will be in the starting XI. What he is not used to, though, is being told that he will play in central midfield.
But that’s exactly what happened just hours before the Impact’s comeback 2-1 win over the Columbus Crew on Sunday. Mapp, typically a wide player, was asked to step up in the absence of Brazilian playmaker Felipe and had a good day at the office in spite of his initial surprise.
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“[Marsch] gives a lot of freedom to all our attacking players, so it wouldn’t necessarily be super-foreign to me,” Mapp told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday. “I just tried to fill in, do the best I could, and being underneath [striker Marco Di Vaio], you get involved in the game a bit more than sometimes out wide.
"It presents different things for you and I enjoyed playing there. Obviously we got Felipe back now, so I’m sure that’s where he’ll be, but for that game, it was fine.”
Felipe and Mapp are two different players altogether, as evidenced by their OPTA heat maps. Whereas Felipe usually settles in central positions – and often pushes so high he sometimes ends up being the closest player to the opposing goalkeeper – Mapp, on Sunday, looked almost like a ‘central winger’ starting in the middle and drifting wide.
Looking back, the 28-year-old recognizes this is probably his natural game catching up with him, but he also believes the Crew’s backline attempted to starve the Impact’s central midfielders of space – perhaps coincidentally, both Montreal goals came thanks to runs from wide areas by Mapp and Zarek Valentin.
“They wanted to keep things compact on the road and we had a lot of numbers in the middle so they wanted to make it tough on us there,” Mapp explained. “Maybe I found myself wide because [Stade Saputo] is a big field and that’s where I found space at times.”
There is no denying that Felipe has made the central attacking midfield role his own, and Mapp realizes he is more of a wide player anyway. But he will not say no should such an opportunity come his way again.
“As long as I’m on the field,” Mapp said, “I’ll play wherever they need me.”