In a season that could see the Philadelphia Union reach record levels of futility, CJ Sapong is close to achieving a remarkable feat. His teammates were in awe after the forward's fourth goal in as many games, equaling the club's record for goals in consecutive games.
"He's been a beast for us," Maurice Edu remarked after the game. "His work rate, the way he brings other people into play. He's been outstanding."
Sheanon Williams, whose cross was converted for the record-tying goal, marveled at his teammate's prowess in the air.
"The amount of headballs that CJ wins is somewhat incredible," Williams said. "He's a monster so you just loft it up and let him go get it."
Since returning from rehab following a DUI arrest in early May, Sapong has dominated Major League Soccer. He's scored five goals in his past six appearances, three of which came off the bench. Despite his success in the box, it is Sapong's work outside of it that makes him the best striker since Sebastien Le Toux of 2011.
Sapong possesses a skill set that only few in this league can match. His dominance in the air is well-known, as is his speed, but his intelligence on and off the ball is what makes him so special. He has the strength to hold off players in the build-up, and the technical ability to slip in his teammates at the same time. Then he has the wherewithal to get himself into the box and find space for an open shot.
The striker's performance pleased Jim Curtin, who was satisfied but not overjoyed following his team's 1-0 victory over a shorthanded Seattle Sounders side.
Sigi Schmid's patchwork XI kept it close all night, at times looking like they might claim at least a point. Their pressure throughout the game forced what could have been costly mistakes from Richie Marquez and Maurice Edu, but a clearly second-choice attack didn't have the quality to capitalize.
The Union weren't exactly converting at a great clip either, scuffing three chances to extend their lead.
In the 27th minute, Maurice Edu slammed home a long throw-in that fell to his feet as he stood three yards from goal. As the team rushed to celebrate the long throw-in's most successful day in three years, referee Edwin Jurisevic whistled Andrew Wenger for an apparent foul on Stefan Frei.
When Wenger drew a penalty just minutes later, Edu stepped up for another opportunity from close range. The captain opted for the oft-criticized stutter-step approach and sent a weak shot that was met easily by goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
A third chance to seal the victory came in the 83rd minute, when Fabinho darted past a defender and slid a through ball to his pal, Fred. Fred, who has now tied the club record for consecutive games while being Fred, couldn't find a way around Frei, who had come off his line to close down the angle.
Full back play was a huge factor in Wednesday's Union victory. Fabinho received the start at left back, while Williams lined up on the right. Both players were able to get up and down the wing and send in service with their preferred foot, a crucial element to a Union attack that needs all the help it can get. Both Fabinho and Williams offer much more going forward than Ray Gaddis, who started in Los Angeles on Saturday.
The full back pairing, as well as the play of CJ Sapong, will be something to watch when the Union host the Montreal Impact on Saturday.