C.J. Sapong is the reigning MLS rookie of the year and is tied for the Sporting Kansas City team lead with three goals this season.
But perhaps nothing makes him as happy as his 6-year-old sister Olivia, who visited last week as Sporting beat the Los Angeles Galaxy.
“She saw me signing autographs and taking pictures and was like, ‘Oh, my brother’s a superstar. You’re a superstar, bro,’ ” Sapong said. “I don’t even look at myself that way, but for her to look at me in that light makes me feel really good. For sure, she’s the light of my life.”
Sapong, 23, had never desired another younger sibling in addition to his brother Edward, 18. But that all changed when their parents decided to adopt a little girl from Ghana.
“It’s definitely been an eye-opening experience and makes you realize how truly fortunate you are,” C.J. said. “We’ve been blessed to have her come into our lives. Getting to know her has been an accelerated process, but people see us together and think we’ve spent our whole life together even though it really hasn’t been.”
The process started six years ago when Kofi and Gillian Sapong, who emigrated from Ghana 25 years ago, decided to help out their homeland, where they had maintained strong roots.
“We felt like it was time to give something back,” Kofi said.
A sad moment in 2006 gave them the opportunity. Olivia’s mother, who attended church with members of Sapong’s family still in Ghana, abandoned her baby at the altar.
“My mom heard about (Olivia) and decided that second that she wanted her,” C.J. said. “She told my aunts to take care of her until things could get situated to bring her over here. Once she had made arrangements, that’s when my mom let us know all about it and we were all for it.”
The adoption was a painfully tedious and slow, however, because of government red tape.
“That stuff makes the process hard to run smoothly,” C.J. said, “and a lot of that was going on, but we just kept hoping and praying she would be with us soon.”
Those prayers finally were answered last November.
“By the time she got to us, we forgot all about the hardship and how long it took,” C.J. said. “All that was gone, and we were just happy to see her and see her so excited.”
C.J. had visited Olivia, who turned 6 in January, twice briefly in Ghana, but immediately forged an unbreakable bond when she arrived in Virginia.
“The second she landed, she gave me a hug and was holding my hand the whole way home,” C.J. said. “That next week, we hung out every day for the whole day while our parents were working and our brother was in school. I was making her meals, bathing her, reading to her and stuff like that.”
But then C.J. had to return to Kansas City for the start of preseason training.
“It was hard for her to understand what was going on,” C.J. said. “All she understood was that her brother was never going to be home.”
Olivia watches every one of C.J.’s games on TV, but that was nothing like attending her first match at Livestrong Sporting Park last weekend to cheer C.J. and his teammates to a 1-0 win against the Galaxy.
Sapong’s family arrived Wednesday before the game and went to C.J.’s appearance with a handful of teammates Thursday at Crown Center.
“She can’t wait for C.J. to get home,” Gillian said, “and when C.J. is around nobody else matters.”
Everything matters more to C.J., though.
“It’s affected every aspect of my life,” C.J. said. “I understand now there is somebody really looking up to me and watching my every move. I’m trying to make sure whatever I do is putting myself in a good light for her. It’s been a lot of learning how to care for a younger person and learning to be patient with them, but also appreciating all the cuteness and beauty of a little kid that’s enjoying the world.”