Sporting Kansas City filled its two loan vacancies Thursday by sending forward C.J. Sapong and defender Kevin Ellis to Orlando City SC.
Sporting KC agreed to lend four players to the Lions, a USL Pro powerhouse on the third tier of the North American soccer pyramid, throughout the season as part of an affiliate agreement signed in January.
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With the recent recall of forward Dom Dwyer, who set a USL Pro single-season record with 15 goals in 13 games, and the release of defender Yann Songo’o, Sporting KC was obligated to send two players back to Orlando City.
“This isn’t a demotion,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. “This is an opportunity. A demotion is when you get cut from the team. This is an opportunity for those guys to get serious minutes of play in an extremely competitive environment, so that when they do come back here they are in form and in a routine.”
Shipping Sapong south seems surprising, but Vermes said he wants the former MLS Rookie of the Year, who had 14 goals and seven assists in his first two seasons but only has netted one goal with one assist in 2013, to regain his goal-scoring touch.
“I think he needs to get back in form and I think this is a good way for him to do it,” Vermes said. “They have four games in a row there, then a two-week break. It’s a great moment for him to go and get as much time as he can. He needs to play as much as he possibly can and get back in form.”
Sapong, 24, was displaced from his normal center forward spot by the arrival of Argentinian striker and Designated Player Claudio Bieler during the offseason.
Finding minutes was going to be a challenge in the next few weeks with Dwyer playing well, Bieler racking up goals, wingers Kei Kamara and Graham Zusi near top form and Teal Bunbury working his way back from a torn ACL.
That doesn’t even include Soony Saad, who started two of the last three games, or veteran Jacob Peterson, who is a sparkplug for Sporting KC anytime he takes the field.
“It was going to be tough for C.J. to get minutes at the moment,” Vermes said. “There’s a lot of guys that are in form. I have all the confidence in the world that he’ll get back in form, but he just needs to work himself into it.”
The Lions play four matches in nine days from July 11-20, so Sapong will get minutes with Orlando City, where Vermes hopes Ellis will build up his fitness during the same time span.
Ellis, 22, became the first Sporting KC Homegrown Player to play in and then start an MLS match last week, but Vermes doesn’t believe Ellis is 90-minutes fit yet.
“If you remember, last game I had to take him out early, because he was starting to die out a little bit,” Vermes said, referring to his first start against the Vancouver Whitecaps. “I want him to be a guy, if I stick in, he can go 90 minutes.”
Ellis’ arrival also fills a need for the Lions, who lost right back Bryan Burke for the season July 5 when he broke his leg against the Battery in Charleston, S.C.
With a busy month of August on the horizon, including CONCACAF Champions’ League play, both Ellis and Sapong won’t be gone long and haven’t been written off as contributors this season.
“They are for sure going to come back and right away jump into training with us (when Orlando City has its two-week break),” Vermes said. “Then, I’ll make decisions thereafter about how all those guys fit in for us in the remaining games from that point on. It wouldn’t be any different if we had a reserve team here in town. As it is, those guys can go play with Orlando.”
Ellis and Sapong join goalkeeper Jon Kempin and midfielder Christian Duke, who remain on loan with Orlando City.