Philadelphia Union manager Peter Nowak thinks Justin Mapp is a great guy in the locker room who brings speed, a strong shot and an important veteran presence every time he steps on the field.
He also knows one more thing: that the Union have a plethora of younger midfielders that have shown the ability to fill his role.
As such, it was with a sense of pragmatism that the Union left Mapp exposed for Wednesday’s MLS Expansion draft. But there was also a twinge of regret when the Montreal Impact selected him with the expansion club’s third pick.
“It’s a big loss,” Nowak said on a conference call shortly after Montreal made their selections. “In the year-and-a-half we had him, he was pretty good. But we have options. And we’ll also look domestically and abroad to strengthen the position.”
Asked for reasons why he left him exposed, Nowak cited Mapp’s “significant” salary, as well as the fact that he’s entering the last year of his contract and is eligible for next month’s Re-Entry Draft.
The Union manager also pointed to Michael Farfan, Gabriel Farfan, Roger Torres and Keon Daniel – all of whom are younger than the 27-year-old Mapp – as attacking midfielders that can step into more prominent roles next season in Mapp’s place.
Shortly after losing Mapp, the Union also acquired 23-year-old Tanzanian winger Nizar Khalfan in the Waiver Draft. Khalfan was released by the Whitecaps after notching a goal and four assists in 1,066 minutes last season. The Union announced the move in conjunction with the release of defender Juan Diego Gonzalez and goalie Thorne Holder, neither of whom logged any minutes last season.
Another young midfielder who can do big things for the Union next season is Freddy Adu. And Nowak is thankful the 22-year-old is still in the club’s possession after Montreal passed on him.
Nowak admitted leaving Adu unprotected – a decision that was made mostly because of the midfielder’s high salary – was risky, but worth the gamble.
“You always take some risks in the decision you have to make,” the Union manager said. “You have to speculate what the other team is thinking to protect as much as you can from the core group. … Fortunately for us and Freddy, the logic paid off and we have Freddy back.”
Nowak was also asked about his decision to protect the 24-year-old Daniel over some more established players. The Trinidad & Tobago international made only 18 appearances in 2011 before reporting for international duty in August. He never returned because of problems with his visa.
“We’re still working on the visa issue,” Nowak said. “We have good feedback from people trying to help us in this case. Keon makes a low salary, is still a very young player and played very good up until he left. He’s still a guy, at the end of the day, that we need. And I can tell you we’re doing everything in our power to get him back as soon as we can.”
With Adu, Daniel and many others still on the roster, the Union certainly have plenty of solid midfield options going into next season.
Still, losing a player of Mapp’s quality was not easy for Nowak. And the Union manager believes the Impact are lucky to have a veteran like Mapp, who will be going into his 10th season.
“Justin is very unpredictable with his speed and very wicked with his shot that has surprised goalkeepers in this league for many years,” Nowak said. “He’s a guy that always bring something special to the team.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org