Justin Mapp wasn't looking to become the answer to a trivia question. He just wanted to find the best place to continue his long MLS career – and it didn't take long to find that in Sporting Kansas City.
“It's something that I kind of wanted to explore right away,” the veteran midfielder told reporters on Monday, after signing with Sporting in the first free-agent deal in MLS history. “That's something I did a bit of last week, and here we are today.
“It all happened pretty quickly, but the process has been new for all of us, so we weren't exactly sure how it all would work. But we made it happen.”
The 31-year-old Mapp, a career MLSer, was the ideal candidate for free agency under the new collective bargaining agreement. He broke into MLS in 2002 with D.C. United, helped the Chicago Fire win one Supporters' Shield and two Lamar Hunt US Open Cups, and won back-to-back Canadian Cup titles with the Montreal Impact after a stint with the Philadelphia Union.
“Players who have played in this league a long time and have seen and helped the league grow deserve these opportunities,” he said, “especially in the latter stages of their career when they've put in the time and kind of want more of a say in where they want to live, want to play, whatever their case may be. So it was refreshing. But the process was definitely something different.”
Sporting made their interest known right away when the free agent window opened last week. They weren't aiming at a spot in the league history books, either – just trying to lock up a player they saw as their top free-agent priority and figured would get a lot of offers.
“We knew that it was going to be a bit of a competition, but at the same time, I think it also really came down to what Justin was looking for,” manager and technical director Peter Vermes said during a Monday conference call. “He had the opportunity to make this decision, and from our point of view, it was us trying to give him a clear picture of who we are and how we see him within our team. Most of you know that there's a lot of great players out there, but we're also very specific about the types of players that we think fit our play.
“That's why Justin was someone that we made a No. 1 target in free agency, to make sure that if we could get him we would do everything that we could.”
Mapp's versatility makes him a solid fit for Sporting's 4-3-3 system, Vermes said.
“The thing about Justin is that he can play on the left or the right. He's left-footed. He can come inside, being on the right, and be even more concentrated on his play as a playmaker in the central channel," said the Sporting boss. "If he's playing more on the left, he has the ability to serve a ball unlike many guys in this league. I think he's got one of the best services in the league, one of the best touches.
- Get more Sporting news at SportingKC.com
“The other is he has the ability to take people on 1-v-1, eliminate them to the dribble. And in other situations he can play behind the forward as a true playmaker.”
Given how well Vermes rates his first pickup from the league's free agent pool, is he keen to get back in it – and can Sporting afford it with their cap numbers? (No team may acquire more than two out-of-contract players via free agency in a given year.)
“Technically speaking, the rules are that we can only go after one more, from what I understand,” he said. “So, are we? Maybe. We're always going to keep our options open. We're continuously looking for ways to improve our team. I guess time will tell.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.