When C.J. Sapong scored the game-clinching goal against New York this weekend, he uncorked a cartwheel into a backflip for a celebration. It was reminiscent of the celebration done by Manchester United's Nani. When you consider that Sapong is bigger (about five inches taller and 40-50 pounds heavier), it becomes an even more impressive display of coordination and athleticism.
The Kansas City Star
Which, if you've been following Sporting all season, is just another in a long line of impressive and athletic accomplishments for Sapong, who has to be the front-runner for MLS Rookie of the Year.
The following things are absolutely true about Sporting Kansas City's rookie striker:
• He scored Sporting Kansas City's first goal of the season -- the first goal scored by "Sporting Kansas City."
• He scored the first league goal at Livestrong Sporting Park.
• He's played a part in every game this season, 22 times as a starter. (His 2,074 minutes trails only Matt Besler, Jimmy Nielsen, Graham Zusi, Chance Myers and Kei Kamara).
• He has five goals and five assists on the year. Only Zusi has more assists (7).
• He scored three goals in the U.S. Open Cup.
• Kansas City are 5-0 in games in which he scores and have won 10 games when he is the starting striker.
• He has drastically improved KC's goal celebrations. Not only the cartwheel into the backflip, but his celebration resume includes the "Tiiiiiiimber" fall in Portland and joining Kei Kamara for a Michael Jackson tribute earlier this year. Sadly, MLS doesn't have a catch-all YouTube channel for goal celebrations.*
• He mixes swag and sweet better than most players (on the field and, of course, off)
• Three major soccer outlets called the No. 10 pick of the 2011 draft a "reach" -- Ives Galarcep on Fox Soccer, Avi Creditor at Sports Illustrated and Drew Epperley at WV Hooligan.
• Right now, he's the no-duh MLS rookie of the year. If you re-drafted today, he probably is the second pick after Omar Salgado.
*If I could take over MLS for a day, the first thing I'd do was to set-up a video channel that only showed the best goal celebrations in the league. You wouldn't watch that all the time?
Let's take another look at Sapong's goal against New York which came on his first touch less than a minute after entering the game. It featured the two things that make him special. 1) He can create a scoring chance from a bad position -- in this instance, he's almost parallel to the ground when he strikes the ball -- and 2) You almost have to foul him to keep him from having his way physically.
It's fairly similar to the goal he scored at San Jose this summer.
When you throw in his speed and his touch, it's easy to see what Peter Vermes saw in Sapong (the other forwards drafted in the first round have scored 7 goals combined) and why Teal Bunbury had to claw back into the starting lineup.
He leads all rookies in total points (five goals, five assists), has played in every game and trails only New England's AJ Soares and Chicago's Jalil Anibaba in minutes played for a rookie.
I don't think there's even a debate that Sapong is the rookie of the year. His only competition is really D.C. United's Perry Kitchen (who is solid, but hasn't had nearly the same impact Sapong has had on his team's standing).
Kansas City heads into the playoffs without a horse in the league MVP race and without a guy shooting for the Golden Boot (though having three strikers with 9 goals will make up for that). But it certainly has the front-runner for rookie of the year.
For good measure, here is my favorite Sapong goal this year. It's from Portland -- and is one of the few MLS videos that actually captures his celebration.