Mapp Central

After a month away, midfielder returns

Following a crunching challenge to the shin from Michael
Lahoud in the Fire’s 1-1 draw with Chivas USA on May 1, Fire midfielder Justin
Mapp took some time off. Missing three MLS games and another two Sister Cities
International Cup matches, Mapp sat while his shin and a previously suffered
left hamstring injury healed.

“The hamstring is something that had been nagging me before
the Chivas game,” said Mapp. “It’s something I’ve had issues with in the past
and so with that and the tackle, I sat out a few games to get healthy again.”

Time away can often bring some good.

Returning to the Toyota Park pitch last Thursday against FC
Dallas, the nine-year MLS veteran played centrally in Carlos de los Cobos
five-man midfield, rather than lining up in his normal spot on the left flank.
While the Fire surrendered a goal early, Mapp played a big role to bring the
Fire back level.

In the 35th minute, Brian McBride lobbed a cheeky
ball between Mapp and Hoops defender Zach Loyd, with the Fire midfielder using
his speed to beat the FC Dallas rookie. Mapp broke into the box and played a
low cross from left to a streaking Mike Banner but the diminutive Fire
midfielder’s sliding first-time effort popped just over Kevin Hartman’s goal.

Spurred by the miss, the Fire equalized five minutes later
this time with Mapp serving up a tasty cross for McBride whose header caught
Hartman in no man’s land and drew the match level.

The first half performance from the Brandon, MS product is
perhaps the best soccer we’ve seen from Mapp this season. Still not back to
full fitness, Mapp made way for Collins John in the 57
th minute as
the Fire looked for a go-ahead goal that wouldn’t come.

Had the Banner chance gone in, Mapp would have hit his 45th
career assist across all competitions. Currently sitting fourth on the Fire’s
all-time regular season assists chart with 36, the 25-year-old midfielder is
within striker distance of third place Ante Razov who sits on 38.

Three days following his comeback against Dallas, Mapp
received another start in the friendly match with A.C. Milan. Lining up
centrally again, the out of position midfielder looked poised, doing well to
help the Fire control possession against the Rossoneri in the 1-0 loss.

Mapp has received good feedback from the past two games and
the move has suited him well thus far.

“The coaches look for me to be on the ball more and to
create more chances. Playing centrally is a little bit different. You
definitely get more touches on the ball. You’re asked to show back and get more
involved in distributing to everyone else. Being wide you can get isolated
sometimes and feel like you’re not really in the game.  You’re seeing things from a different perspective
but other than that its midfield and it’s not all that different.”

With two matches to go ahead of the first-ever MLS World Cup
break, Mapp is looking for his side to capture six points before the break
starting with Saturday night’s match against the Philadelphia Union at Toyota
Park.

“It’ll be nice to have a few days off in the middle of the
season but the task ahead is to go into the break on a positive note. I’ve seen
bits and pieces of Philadelphia and I’m sure we’ll find out more as the week goes
on. They had a rough start as an expansion team but they’re just coming off a
win over Houston and we know Peter Nowak will have them fired up and for a
battle against his former team.”