CHESTER, Pa. – With one quick strike, Justin Mapp welcomed himself back into the fold for the Philadelphia Union. Now, the midfielder hopes to stay healthy as the club looks to make its own playoff strike.
“Justin had been hurt and he came back strong,” Union manager Peter Nowak said. “That’s a positive sign.”
Mapp, who was sidelined two games last month with a quad strain, got his first start since Sept. 3 when the Union played Chivas this past Sunday – and responded with his first goal since May. The goal proved to be vital in Philly’s 1-1 draw.
“It was definitely good to be back on the field,” Mapp said. “It’s always frustrating to be out, especially this time of year when all games matter. We’re in a tight race in the East with three big games left.”
Mapp tweaked his quad after coming in as a second-half substitute vs. Portland on Sept. 10, and also missed time earlier in the season with a hamstring injury. But the 26-year-old has still been one of Nowak’s most reliable players in the midfield, earning 21 starts. The only Union midfielder who’s started more games is Brian Carroll.
“We always have to monitor his fitness and his ability to play 90 minutes, but I think he gave us a lot of good stuff the other night in LA,” Nowak said of Mapp. “I’m happy for him to have the courage to pull the trigger. He has a very wicked shot, meaning you never know where the ball is going to go. And defensively, he was very good. He always brings us something different. He has a lot of vision, a lot of speed and is very unpredictable.”
Interestingly enough, the only other two goals Mapp scored this season – both coming in Philly’s 6-2 rout of Toronto on May 28 – also came from outside the box. Is that long-range shooting ability part of his repertoire?
“It’s not something I particularly work on in general, but if the opportunity presents itself, I’ve got to be confident,” Mapp said. “I feel capable of scoring them, so why not give it a try.”
The Union will certainly look for more goals like that through the final three games of the season, starting with Saturday’s contest against the Seattle Sounders at CenturyLink Field (10 pm ET, watch LIVE online). And while the club has gotten some excellent production from a bevy of young midfielders in recent weeks – most notably, Michael Farfan and Roger Torres – there’s something to be said about leaning on the experience of veterans like Mapp, who has been in the league for 10 years.
Mapp, who came over to Philly in the middle of last season, admits he’s not much of a vocal leader but hopes his play will do the talking as the Union continue their playoff quest.
“To go from out of the playoffs to fighting to be Eastern Conference champion is huge for the club and the fans,” Mapp said. “It’s a big step in the right direction.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him at Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.