Player of the Week

Player of the week: C.J. Sapong

Photo: Paul Rudderow

“I need a hero! I’m holding out for a hero ’til the end of the night. He’s gotta be strong, and he’s gotta be fast, and he’s gotta be fresh from the from the fight. I need a hero! I’m holding out for a hero ’til the morning light. He’s gotta be sure, and it’s gotta be soon, and he’s gotta be larger than life!”

It’s cliché. I know it is. The more I think about Saturday evening, however, the more Bonnie Tyler’s lyrics stick in my head.

The Union went into their match against the New York Red Bulls needing a hero. Including the playoffs, Philadelphia was sitting on a 16 game winless streak. It weighed on the players and coaches. Every discussion eventually wove its way back to the team’s struggles.

Some fans were angry, but a different emotion was taking root and spreading amongst the fan base.

Apathy.

The latter is much much dangerous for a franchise. When people stop caring, it’s that much more difficult to get them to care again. It’s why Jay Sugarman publicly responded to Dan Walsh’s open letter on this site.

The Union needed someone to stem the tide of negativity. They needed someone to hope.

They needed a win.

The Hero

The first 70 minutes came and went, yet Philadelphia looked no closer to securing their first victory in 252 days. The Union performed well in the first half, but the Red Bulls were methodically grabbing control.

Then there was hope.

In the 71st minute, Haris Medunjanin played a perfect ball to Chris Pontius. A series of back and forth one-touch passes between the winger and C.J. Sapong resulted in a clean header for the forward. He didn’t waste the chance, sending the ball toward the upper corner of the net. It looked like Philadelphia had found their breakthrough.

Louis Robles disagreed. The keeper made the save of the week to deny Sapong, the Union, and the crowd. At that moment, it seemed the chance for victory would slip away yet again.

Luck would intervene.

In the 74th minute, Aaron Long found himself alone with a ball falling toward him. It should have been routine. Instead, he bungled it. C.J. Sapong closed and collected the loose ball, making a run into the box. From there he sent a hard, low shot to the far post. A Red Bull deflection changed its course and sent it to the back of the net.

The Union had their goal.

After a wonderful save from Andre Blake, Sapong scored again in the 81st minute. He rammed in a close range effort from a Pontius knock-down.

Sapong would score a third in the 85th minute on a penalty kick resulting from a hand ball. He calmly sent Robles one direction before sending his shot the other.

The Union won 3-0.

The Player

Sapong scored the third hat trick in Union history over the span of 11 minutes. With the goals, he ended the week tied for first in the Golden Boot race. They were his 5th, 6th, and 7th goals of the year.

Jay Simpson started the year as Jim Curtin’s first choice forward. He was signed to significant money and expected to be the Union main source of offense. Despite a solid start to last season, Sapong ended 2016 scoreless since August 13.

As a result, Sapong started 2017 on the bench. He would have to earn his time as a “super sub.” Due to injury and solid play, that role was short lived. By the third week, Sapong was once again in the first 11.

This brings up to Saturday night. It contrasts the 2016 and 2017 versions of the player.

Over the opening stages of the game, Sapong was ineffectual. He was disconnected from the rest of the team. Without a clear link, the Union could only play hopeful long balls to the striker. Last season, Sapong would stagnate. His performance would carry on the same path from start to finish. Against New York, however, there was nothing static about his play.

The second half saw Sapong drop deeper to collect the ball, forcing himself into the game. He was playing as both a creator and target man. It’s these adjustments that show he is a better player than last season. It’s why the Union won.

Sapong was both strong and fast. He fought until the end of the night. He was larger than life.

C.J. Sapong is PSP’s hero of the week.

Previous Winners

11 Comments

  1. The Truth says:

    Great photo

  2. Pic makes me laugh!! You cover him… No you cover him ..I’m not covering him…

  3. Sapong dropped deeper in the Toronto game when we were looking great too. He needs to do that more often. The team looks so much more in control when he does. Not that he has to do it all the time, but way more than he is currently doing.

  4. pragmatist says:

    In an effort to continue his solid play, JC has to look at getting him a break and starting Simpson at some point this month. COL or RSL need to games where Simpson starts at least one. We all saw CJ break down last year, and his is the victim of multiple assaults every week. Give him recovery time and get the expensive backup on the field for a game or two. Hopefully Jay will prove worthy of his paycheck during those games, giving us good options going forward.
    .
    But for the love of God, make sure he gets rest. That was possibly the biggest knock last year on Curtin – he ran players into the ground. Take advntage of this much-heralded depth.

    • This, a hundred times this. Give Simpson a chance to show his stuff, since he must be hungry too. It’ll keep the fire lit under CJ’s butt AND give him the rest he desperately needs to keep his production up through the summer.

      Unfortunately Jim Curtin, from what we have seen of him as coach so far, does not believe in squad rotation. So we can expect to see Sapong starting all 3 matches and probably playing 85+ minutes in each. That’s kinda what Kevin Kinkead was alluding to when he asked that question at the press conference, and it was a damn good question. I wish Curtin had answered it instead of getting snippy. But maybe Jim will have learned something and I will be surprised.

      • We have never had real depth before, just look at how many depth players on last years team are in USL this year. So far this year we have rotated a lot of players and it’s still very early. I hope we do rotate more this year, especially in those 3 games in 8 days weeks.

  5. el Pachyderm says:

    I’m going to go with the Footloose version of Bonnie Tyler’s lyrics stuck in the head and NOT Nacho Libre or Harry Crumb.
    .
    FAIR?
    .
    I can’t believe you just planted this earworm.
    .
    Evil.
    Pernicious.
    Dastardly.

  6. The one game I wasn’t able to watch!
    Oh well, hopefully this will lead to a few more wins.

    CJ’s one of those guys I root for to do well, so this is really cool

  7. UnionGoal says:

    Been a fan of CJ from Kc days. Great fighter. Well deserved.
    But secret sauce was his channeling Will Smith.
    Guys needed that video to remind them this is a fun game…brilliant move by whoever came up with idea.
    UnionGoal

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