The birth and development of Major League Soccer has been well-documented and talked about time and time again. It is known that the fan support is moderate, but gradually increasing. While there is potential for support to grow, for the time being, there are only a handful of large soccer markets (i.e. Seattle, Kansas City, Los Angeles.)
So when the league decided to let the fans have their say on who they think should be on the MLS All-Star team, it was a double-edged sword. Sure, it’s fantastic that the supports can go online and vote for their favorite players, but it means that the big soccer markets mentioned above will obscure the voting. Want proof? Not a single player from D.C. United, the surprise of the current MLS season, are amongst the top vote-getters so far. Nor is there a representative from the Montreal Impact.
Thankfully for supporters of smaller market teams – like the Impact – who want to see their standout players take the field with the rest of the Major League Soccer All-Stars, the fans don’t get to just simply control the All-Star team. They select eleven participants (not necessarily the starters) and the job of filling out the squad falls to Caleb Porter, head coach of the Portland Timbers.
Porter and league commissioner Don Garber will ultimately have the final say on the 32 players chosen for the roster and the starting eleven when the MLS All-Stars take on the Bundesliga champions, Bayern Munich in early August.
One player who should make Porter’s team, is Montreal Impact left midfielder Justin Mapp. In a season where the Impact are struggling to get any momentum and currently sit last place in the Eastern Conference, it’s hard to pick out any bright spots. Mapp however, is one of them.
The Brandon, Mississippi native is on pace to have a career year. Through 14 appearances this season, Mapp has yet to score a goal, but that’s not why he’s on the field. He’s there to set up teammates and create chances, which he does well. So far, he leads the Impact with five assists. Not eye-popping, but when you take into account the league leader has eight helpers…it balances out.
The most assists Mapp has been credited with in a single season is eight, which he has achieved on four occasions, including last year. With 18 games left on the schedule, it’s possible that Mapp could have as many as eleven or twelve assists, when all is said and done.
The midfielder was also a key contributor in the Impact’s Canadian Championship win this season. Mapp was selected as the recipient of the George Gross Memorial Trophy as MVP of the Championship, for the second straight year.
Although the Impact have only been around for three seasons, Mapp is one of the lone remaining members of the team that debuted in the MLS in 2012. Because of his ‘longevity’ with the club, Mapp is the franchise leader in assists with 25 and his 80 appearances rank him 4th all-time with the Impact.
Like most major sports, the MLS All-Star game is more about showcasing the league’s talent, rather than fielding a super-competitive squad. Keeping in mind that commissioner Garber plays a large role in the final selection process, it’s pretty safe to say that each club, no matter where they are in the standings, will have at least one representative.
At last season’s game, Patrice Bernier and Marco Di Vaio were both part of the game-day roster. Bernier was chosen by Garber and last year’s coach Peter Vermes, while Di Vaio was a fan selection. You can bet that neither of those players will be in Portland on August 6th; the former has struggled to find his place in the squad and the latter has been hampered by injuries and poor performance. This opens the door for one Justin Mapp.
When watching Mapp, his 5’10”, 165lbs. frame doesn’t exactly stand out on the pitch. His play does though. Time and time again fans at Stade Saputo are treated to the 29-year-old’s electrifying runs down the left flank. He has the pace and ball control to beat just about any defender on the dribble. And when he can’t get by them with his speed alone, he can rely on his creativity and skill moves to embarrass the opposition.
A typical Mapp run is one where he picks up the ball in his side’s defending third. He then takes it all the way to the top of his opponents’ box, where he can either move outside and whip in a cross for a teammate or cut inside and crack a shot on goal with his deadly, yet underrated left foot.
His crossing ability makes him a top candidate for most set pieces. When he’s in full form, it can seem impossible to stop him.
It’s not like Justin Mapp has just come out of nowhere either. Over his 12 year career, Mapp has had spells with D.C. United, the Chicago Fire and the Philadelphia Union. He also played briefly with the U.S. national team. Mapp was selected to the MLS Best XI following an outstanding 2006 campaign with the Fire and the year prior, he was chosen for the All-Star game. He more than deserves a spot this time around.
In a recent contest on the Impact’s official Twitter account, fans were asked to re-tweet the photo of the Impact player they thought should be selected to the All-Star team. Mapp was the runaway winner, leaving Jack McInerney and Hassoun Camara some 50 tweets behind. This just goes to show that Mapp’s solid play is being noticed by the fans. Let’s hope Caleb Porter and Don Garber have taken notice, as well.
— Impact de Montréal (@impactmontreal) July 7, 2014
The 2014 MLS All-Star game will take place on Wednesday, August 6th in Portland, Oregon. The MLS All-Stars have a decent record when it comes to playing in the annual showcase; they are 5-4 (one loss coming via penalties) against world-class clubs such as Manchester United, A.S. Roma and Chelsea.