Photo: Mikey Reeves
C.J. Sapong is streaky.
No Philadelphia Union player can match the chasm between the highs and lows. Do you remember last season when there was genuine discussion about a place on the national team? No? Let’s refresh our memory here and here.
How did he follow up his sparkling early season display? Sapong became mired in a drought that made the flora of Arizona cringe. After finding the net against New England on Aug. 13, the striker went scoreless for the remainder of the campaign
The ignominious streak ended when Sapong tallied this season against Toronto. With that, a new streak began. Making an appearance as a substitute against D.C., he found the back of the net in his third consecutive match.
C.J. Sapong is PSP’s player of the week.
Prior to the introduction of C.J in the 59th minute, calling the Union’s performance “listless” would be putting it mildly. That changed the moment Jim Curtin made his second substitution.
Because it is impossible to say it any better than PSP’s Dan Walsh did in his piece from Monday, this article is going to borrow a quote:
Soccer is easier when you play with 11 players, as Philadelphia Union learned Saturday.
C.J. Sapong demonstrated that clearly against D.C. United when he entered the game in the 59th minute like a cannonball into a swimming pool.
As Dan highlights, Jay Simpson was invisible during his stay at RFK Stadium. It was tempting to blame this on the service. The Union were disconnected. Haris Medunjanin and Derrick Jones couldn’t connect with Alejandro Bedoya, who couldn’t connect with Simpson.
Sapong reminded us that sometimes a striker needs to make things happen. Sometimes they need to be the creators.
With Sapong putting the game on his shoulders, the rest of the men from Philadelphia followed suit. Keegan Rosenberry showed flashes of the player he was last year. Medunjanin looked engaged offensively. Bedoya reminded fans why Earnie Stewart sought his signature.
Now, let’s rein this back in. This is all more correlation than causation. For everything Sapong did, it still wasn’t enough to see Philadelphia earn a road point. Just as much of the Union’s uptick in play can be attributed to D.C. United playing a very, very conservative game with a two goal lead.
While this is true, a player’s performance can only be judged by what is done on the field and not the hypotheticals surrounding it.
In just over a half hour of play, Sapong scored a poacher’s goal, generated four shots on target, and won three aerials. He went hunting for the game. If not for Bill Hamid’s performance in the latter stages of the game, the forward would have willed his team toward at least a point.
After Sapong’s performance, Jim Curtin faces an interesting dilemma. Jay Simpson is supposed to be the answer for Philadelphia at the tip of the attack. C.J. Sapong has had two years to prove he could be “the guy.”
By no means should Simpson be written off. He deserves more than three games to prove what he can be.
Maybe Sapong was effective precisely because he was the substitute. He has all the physical tools to dominate a game when he is asked to do so in short bursts. Last season, Curtin ran him into the ground. He was playing poor soccer and only kept his place on the field because the Union had no one to challenge him.
That is the point. Players need someone to challenge them. Competition can bring out the best. Sapong looks hungry for his starting spot when he took the field last Saturday. If a coach doesn’t reward this kind of performance, where will the incentive rest?
When Portland comes to town, Sapong should be among the starters. Simpson, however, should be looking to capitalize on his own chance as a substitute.
So what will Sapong be? Is he the potential all-star or the scorer who couldn’t score?
The answer isn’t somewhere in between. He is both.
C.J. Sapong is streaky.