CJ Sapong has been traded to Chicago. In many ways, Sapong truly represented everything a Philly fan wants out of a professional athlete; fiercely competitive, high work rate, gives back to the community and a leader in the locker room. He was one of the fan favorites, as his name could be found the backs of hundreds of fans at Talen Energy Stadium on game day. As we look back at some of his most special moments in a Union jersey, I think it’s safe to say that he will be missed by many.
Right off the bat in the first game of his first season with the Union, Sapong showed that he was Philly tough enduring a concussion and facial fracture. He ended up scoring his first goal for the Union (an 86th minute equalizer against NYCFC) with his face still healing from the injury and wearing a mask. Overall it was a poor season for the Union, but they did reach their second consecutive US Open Cup final. CJ finished the season with 9 goals and 4 assists, including two game winners, one against Columbus and the only goal against Seattle in arguably the Union’s best win that season. CJ was arrested on suspected DUI charges and suspended for three games by MLS in 2015, but was found not guilty in court and went on to tie a career high mark in goals (9).
CJ appeared 31 times for a Union team that made the playoffs in 2016 for the third time ever. This was a huge turnaround from finishing second to last in the eastern conference the year before. While CJ didn’t have the best stats (7g 2a and 2 game winners in 31 appearances) he still was a steady contributor in link up play for a much-improved Union squad. His best performance of the season came in a 3-0 win vs New England where he scored his first brace in a Union jersey.
This was Sapong’s career year. He scored 16 goals with 5 assists, and 2 game winning goals in 33 MLS appearances, breaking the LeToux’s Union record for goals in a single season (14) on the last day of the season with a brace in a 6-1 thrashing of Orlando. Sapong also recorded the first and only hat trick of his career, scoring all 3 goals in a 3-0 vs Red Bull. He also had a brace in a 3-1 win against FC Dallas. Another season highlight was a crucial goal in a 2-2 draw with eventual MLS cup champion Toronto. It was after this season that Sapong’s contract was extended and he was given a considerable raise, ultimately playing a role in his departure.
In 2018 Sapong unfortunately regressed as a striker, only scoring 4 goals and contributing 3 assists in 32 MLS appearances. His best performance came in the first game of the season against New England, contributing to both goals scored in a 2-0 with a goal and an assist. He didn’t regain his goal scoring form the rest of the year. He ultimately lost his spot as the striker to Corey Burke, but continued to contribute from the right wing. He was an instrumental part of the roster, helping the Union make the Open Cup final, their fourth playoff appearance in team history, and the highest regular season point total ever accumulated. Fans grew frustrated by his lack of goal scoring form, yet he always patrolled the pitch aggressively, giving his all in games and practices.
Sapong’s final season in a Union jersey was by far his least productive. With the Union switching formations to a 4-4-2, and no longer needing a hold-up style lone striker, Sapong moved down the depth chart this preseason. His dip in form combined with his higher salary and the increased competition for playing time up top made him expendable for Ernst Tanner and co.
For fans, he was an incredibly recognizable face. CJ regularly participated in community outreach events and he was one of only 5 players who are still on the roster from the 2015 season (others include Andre Blake, Warren Creavalle, Fabinho, and Ray Gaddis). CJ appeared in 135 games for the Union in all competitions over his four seasons, and has been the leading goal scorer of Jim Curtin’s tenure as head coach.
Sapong’s lasting legacy will be somewhat varied. Some will say that he was their favorite player, while others see his tenure as one of mediocrity for the team. Whatever your viewpoint, Sapong leaves the Union as the second highest goal scorer in team history, and as a player who will be remembered as embodying the spirit of Philadelphia. We wish him the best in his move to Chicago and hope he scores many goals against DC and both New York teams.
Leave your favorite CJ Sapong memory in the comments below.