Player of the Week

Player of the week: C.J. Sapong

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Saturday evening the city of Philadelphia breathed a collective sigh of relief.

The Union earned a point in a game filled with goals against Montreal, with the final being 3-3.  It snapped Philadelphia’s four game losing streak.

What? Isn’t that the streak hanging over the head of the organization?

Of course, the other streak continued. Despite leading 3-0, the Union are still searching for their victory since last August. One player, however, performed admirably for the home side.

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

Defensive pressure and creativity

Sapong’s earned his place in this feature through a wonderful display in the games first 45′. It coincidentally mirrored the team’s overall performance on the day.

The Union opened the scoring in the 5′ as Roland Alberg found the back of the net. The movement started as Alejandro Bedoya and Sapong forced a turnover from an Impact throw-in. Sapong chased down the lose ball and was pulled down by Montreal center back Hassoun Camara; however, it was not before the forward placed a perfectly weighted pass in the path of Alberg. From there, the Dutch midfielder (second striker) turnstiled a defender and beat the keeper.

The play demonstrated Sapong’s work rate and pressure on opposing defenders that can force these kinds of fatal turnovers. It is the embodiment of the style coach Jim Curtin asks his players to demonstrate.

Unfortunately, it also shows the fragility of the system. Sapong’s constant pressure can leave his teammates with lots to do. Instead of a more compact formation when defending, Sapong’s positioning up the pitch leaves gaps behind him. It stretches the team to close those spaces down. When the opposition adjusts, it typically involves bringing players deeper to collect and distribute. It has been lethal against the Union. As the players tire from Curtin’s high press style, they also have to adjust to being outnumbered in the midfield.

Sapong shows he can be a force in this system, but not for the whole 90′. If the forward is going to play the majority of minutes up top, the conservation of energy needs to have equal attention. A lone striker’s job, after all, is to score goals. Can he do that in the 80th minute when he’s expended his stamina?

Conversely, Sapong is still scoring.

Dipping the onion bag

In the 23′, the forward headed the ball past Evan Bush for his fourth goal of the season. It may be the easiest finish he’ll have this year.

A Haris Medunjanin corner founds its way back to the Bosnian before the midfielder created the space to send a second cross into the box. Chris Pontius was at the back post to meet it. The winger centered the ball, where Sapong was able to add the final touch. It was an empty net from about two feet away.

The difficulty is irrelevant. Good forwards know how to position themselves to capitalize on chances.

The first half also showed just how much of a challenge defenders have when asked to mark Sapong. Camara and Laurent Ciman’s only answer to the striker was to foul. By George, that is exactly what they did.

Montreal came into the contest leading MLS in fouls committed per game at 15.3. Sapong managed to draw seven fouls. Some were comically harsh. Perhaps referee Nima Saghafi took pity on the Impact, who led the league with three red cards. It is the only answer as to why not a single card was shown to the Montreal defenders. This is in spite of Ciman scissoring Sapong’s leg and pulling him down by the neck.

When Sapong his on his game, his strength and pace can give any defense fits. It is the exactly the traits needed to be a sole striker.

Can he figure out a way to play at that level all game? The Union learned the hard way again that one half of solid soccer does not mean you played well enough to earn a win.

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2 Comments

  1. Andy Muenz says:

    I would actually like to see a game where Sapong is never more than a yard behind midfield, especially on the opponents set pieces. That would prevent him from having to run the length of the field and also force the opponents to keep a defender or two that far back or risk a Route 1 counter.

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