CJ Sapong was brought in from Sporting Kansas City last January, in exchange for the Philadelphia Union's first selection (tenth overall) in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft. Initially thought to be a depth add, Sapong was a starter in the team's first game, in which he broke his face. After a month-long spell on the sidelines, he made his return to the field, primarily in a substitute role. Shortly after reentering the starting lineup, Sapong was arrested for a DUI in early May. His resultant participation in a treatment program lasted nearly three weeks, after which he rejoined the team.
Sapong scored in his return. Two games later, then-starter Fernando Aristeguieta went down with an injury. Sapong performed excellently in his stead, scoring in four straight games. In Jim Curtin's eyes, he had done enough to secure that spot on a more permanent basis, as the fifth-year player out of James Madison remained the starter when Aristeguieta returned to full health.
In fewer minutes, Sapong matched his career-high, single-season goal total (9) from 2012. His four assists were also the most he had recorded in a single season since his rookie year.
What did he do right?
Starring as a lone forward in a 4-2-3-1, Sapong showed that he could do a little bit of everything this year. He possesses good size for a target man, and he used it both in the air and on the ground. His height and athletic ability gave him the advantage in nearly every aerial challenge he faced this year. Similarly, his strength and soft touch made him a viable target on the ground, as he proved that he's comfortable with the ball at his feet.
This bit of facilitating play, only minutes into what would be a lengthy streak of games, shows just how complete a forward Sapong is.
What did he do wrong?
Though he did match his career-high for goals in a season, Sapong's production in front of net was hardly steady. From mid-April to late-June, he scored six goals, four of which came in four consecutive games, as he assumed a starting role. In the following fifteen league appearances, he only scored three goals.
Though scoring nine goals in roughly 1900 minutes, good for .43 goals per 90 minutes, is pretty efficient, there is a feeling that it is not good enough. As other teams invest in prolific Designated Players to lead their attacks, there is external pressure for the Union to do the same. While this is certainly not the fault of Sapong, the refusal to settle for "good enough" may prevent him from becoming a long-term starter in Philadelphia.
Most memorable moment
Hauling ass to ensure that the Union left Red Bull Arena with all three points was a pretty good way for CJ Sapong to endear himself to the Union faithful.
If given the chance to start next season, either as a lone forward or in a two-forward system, he could score 12-15 goals. That I don't doubt. Whether that opportunity will be there for him, I'm not so sure.