The continuing conundrum of C.J. Sapong

Photo by Earl Gardner

While the team’s results were disappointing, it was a good year for C.J. Sapong. He scored a career best 16 goals, which was also enough for him to pass Sebastien LeToux on the Union’s all-time single season goals leaderboard. Finding the net that many times is a significant achievement, especially considering that Picault, Alberg, and Ilsinho also had solid contributions to the Union attack. Pair that with 87 fouls suffered (tied for third in the league with NYRB’s Felipe) and it’s clear he is working hard for every goal he gets. In addition, he just recently received a call up, and started, for the U.S. National Team in a friendly vs. Portugal. That’s an honor that many Union fans felt was long overdue.

And yet, there’s an inescapable feeling that the Union need to upgrade that position this off-season.

That isn’t to say it’s the Union’s position of greatest need. It isn’t, not by a long shot. While the Union’s offense wasn’t particularly dangerous, it’s the defensive side of the ball that cost the team the most points this season. And it’s not to say Sapong shouldn’t have a position on the team next year. Assuming he’s still here and still turning in the same level of effort he always has, he’s an asset the team is lucky to have.

But in the era of Nemanja Nikolic, David Villa, and Josef Martinez, that hustle might not be enough. MLS has become a league where buying big strikers pays off, with Nikolic and the Fire proving how quickly a team’s fortunes can turn with an infusion of talent.

Also worth considering is Sapong’s trade value. On a roster without too much interest for other teams, C.J. stands out as a proven MLS player that could contribute to even the best teams from day one. If assets to address a position of greater need are coming back the other way, the Union have to seriously consider offers as they come.

Whatever happens, this won’t be the decision that makes or breaks the Union’s 2018. Odds are, it won’t make or break C.J. Sapong either. He’ll likely succeed wherever he goes. But it shows how drastically the Union need to make changes when a player who had a team and personal record year could still find themselves being sent away before the next season kicks off.


  1. Here’s the counter: CJ offers no conundrum for the Union. In CJ you had a player who finished 9th among all goal scorers in MLS. He had one fewer goal than BWP. Same number of goals as Giovinvco. At his current salary he may be the best $ value on this team by a significant margin. (interesting that the most moneyball player on the roster was signed before Union fans knew who Ernie Stewart was). He’s a player who seems to have grown in confidence and ability. The only justification for selling or trading him would be a significant return. He should only be displaced by a really productive DP, the kind I can’t see the Union spending money on. With his production, replacing CJ is not a priority. A #10 is a priority. As is a LB. I’d put coaching up there in the top three, too, but that’s not going to change.

    • el Pachyderm says:

      Strong defense. Sicilian or King’s Indian?

      • Haven’t played much chess in a long time. If I stumble into a Sicilian Defense, it’s the result of luck.

    • I agree. For me a new starting striker is about priority number 7 out of 11.

    • Counter-counter; and honestly I don’t know the answer to this, but I’ve always felt that it is hard to rate a high-goal tally on a losing team. The classic example is Jack McInerney – I think most would agree he wasn’t a superstar, yet he put up some good numbers in years when the team couldn’t win games so there was a lot of dumping balls into the box to see what happens. I’m a big CJ fan, but stats are hard to interpret. I’d love to see #s like chances created and % of opportunities converted. I think that’s what I’d like to see a little more from CJ. If he can improve his creative ability (incisive passing in the final 3rd, break a defender down to create space for himself), I think he would really push his game into the next level.

  2. OneManWolfpack says:

    Keep Sapong and pay a guy or guys that will get him service, so he can continue to score 10+ goals. He’s fine. It’s his supporting cast that needs upgrading

  3. Matt McClain says:

    C.J. had the assist on McKenie’s goal. Looked great

  4. The conundrum is the insistence on a single striker attack. C.J. paired with a true D.P. level striker would be incredibly dangerous and productive.

  5. CJ was one goal more and one assist less then Altidore. All while being mugged constantly. third in fouls against called and seriously have you seen anyone take as many shots to the head that go uncalled?

    He does what they ask him to do and more. All for a bargain price tag. Spend the bucks nessisary at the attacking mid spot.


  6. We had the least dangerous attack in the East. If it can be upgraded, it should be upgraded. An attacking midfielder would be the priority, but I’ve little confidence either of these things are solved.
    It also doesn’t look like Simpson is going anywhere. Given the club spends little and often poorly, “upgrade” should be taken with a grain of salt.
    I see little upside to trading CJ in MLS. We got him for the 2015 1st rounder that SKC turned into Connor Hallisey, he of 30 appearances and no goals and no longer a pro. Good stuff. The draft can unearth some nuggets like Elliot but mostly it’s a diminishing returns thing. I’m not a fan of CJs game even a little bit though, so short of a major upgrade (read England’s third division and higher), what’s the point? They still don’t have a creative passer.

    • Section 114 (Former) says:

      “We had the least dangerous attack in the East. If it can be upgraded, it should be upgraded.”
      YES! And not by replacing Sapong.
      An upgrade on Sapong will cost $4-7 million. A massive upgrade on our wings can be had for a few hundred thousand. And an upgrade can happen at #10 by picking up some schmuck in the parking lot of Home Depot.

  7. Replacing Sapong would be the least Moneyballish thing we could possibly do. The guy scored 16 goals playing up top by himself on a team with NO CAM. I don’t see what more you could reasonably ask of the guy. Spend the money elsewhere, please. Maybe on getting a backup who can actually play up top solo!

  8. I would like to see the Union get a legitimate threat to pair with him and play a 3-5-2. This team either needs to get much faster OR finally realize they aren’t even close to fast enough and clog and win the midfield. In Terms of need I would be happy to see us get a legitimate LB, LW, RW (with speed and stamina), Striker (that can play off the ball while Sapong holds it up), a CB for depth and last but certainly not least a quality #10.

    This team is NEVER going to splash the cash, so let’s play to what few strengths we have and let’s all get real. We’re not going to get a European or South or Central American #10 that everyone knows. Oh yeah, whoever compared Sapong to Altidore…

    Altidore is a big flopping baby who could not fill Sapong’s shoes!!!!!!

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