Justin Mapp #21 of the Chicago Fire and Ugo Ihemelu #3

Mapp Central

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 57th 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.”