Sometime before a light practice on Tuesday moorning, Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes gathered his team together inside the practice facility. He wanted to deliver some news that has been eight months in the making.
Sporting forward C.J. Sapong, he said, had been named the rookie of the year for Major League Soccer — the first in team history.
“I announced it in front of the team because it’s a team achievement,” Vermes said. “He definitely wouldn’t have gotten it without his teammates.”
But then again, you can argue Sporting wouldn’t have accomplished all it did this season – the best record in the Eastern Conference, an appearance in the conference title game – without the 22-year old Sapong.
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound rookie from James Madison showed flashes of brilliance this season, as he made 22 starts and was the only player to appear in all 34 regular-season matches.
He was among the rookie leaders in goals (five) and assists (five) and added a much-needed dimension as a target forward to an attack that was downright dangerous since July.
“I think everybody saw what he was like at the end season,” Vermes said. “The kid played extremely consistent throughout the season and was a real handful. Credit to him – he did work hard, and he got it done.”
Of course, the affable Sapong — whose rookie season was marked by several memorable moments, including the time he became a YouTube sensation by spouting off a rap to U.S. Women’s National Team goalkeeper Hope Solo – was quick to credit his coaching staff and teammates for his success.
“These guys kept me level and confident the whole time,” Sapong said.
Best thing is, it appears you don’t have to worry about Sapong getting a big head. He won’t be messing around this offseason – his plan is to move back home and live with his parents in Manassas, Va., while he prepares for 2012.
“I’m going to go home next week, probably take a couple of days to relax, and then get right back to it,” Sapong said. “I’m looking forward to those free, home-cooked meals, man. But I’ll be doing something everyday, whether it’s just a light workout or a jog. At least five days out of the week.”
Vermes said he would like to see Sapong continue to improve his tactical awareness, but he has no doubt the 10th overall pick from the 2011 MLS SuperDraft is going to report to training camp in January ready to rock.
“The great thing about him is he realizes he has such a long way to go,” Vermes said. “He’s really humble like that, and it’s going to pay dividends in the future.” After all, Sapong added, it already has.
“I feel like I have a pretty strong foundation,” Sapong said. “I got a rookie of the year award in college, too. I’m excited, but it’s not something I’ll let get into my head and make me overconfident. I know what I have to do to get better.”