Before he even got to Kansas City this week, Sporting KC forward C.J. Sapong had an idea of how he would be treated by his new teammates. And as a rookie first-round draft back with serious talent, he figured it wouldn’t be pretty.
“I was picturing a bunch of guys saying, 'Look, here’s the rookie that’s coming to try and take my job, who is this guy,’” said the wide-eyed 21-year-old from James Madison.
Turns out that couldn’t have been further from the truth. Tuesday marked the first day of Sporting KC’s preseason training for the 2011 season, and as Sapong stood on the plush FieldTurf inside the Chiefs' indoor practice facility after his first practice, it was hard not to come away with the feeling that he was loving every minute of it.
“This is great, it’s nice to finally run around and sweat a little bit,” said Sapong, who was wearing the track suit with the team’s sleek new colors (light blue and indigo). “I’ve been antsy for a couple days now, waiting to see what it was like. It’s exciting.”
A big reason for this excitement, Sapong said, was the way he was accepted by his teammates. He described midfielder and team captain Davy Arnaud, whose locker is next to Sapong’s, as a “real cool, real chill guy,” and said that fellow forwards Teal Bunbury and Kei Kamara, who are both big (all are 6-foot-1 or taller) strong and fast like Sapong, have gone out of their way to help him get acclimated.
“They told me to be who I am – that’s what got me drafted,” said Sapong, who was also forced to bring doughnuts for the veterans on Tuesday. “But don’t try to do too much.”
The latter, however, could prove to be difficult for Sapong, a high-energy, aggressive player who freelanced in college because he was his team’s best playmaker.
“The big thing for me is patience,” Sapong said. “Here, I’m surrounded by other good players, so I can take advantage of opportunities when they are presented to me. I don’t always have to create them.”
Sapong will have plenty of time to work on that. The team formerly known as the Wizards will work out in Kansas City Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before departing for Phoenix, Ariz., to continue its eight-week preseason.
However, both coach Peter Vermes and Bunbury liked what they saw from Sapong on Tuesday.
“What we saw over the course of scouting was evident today,” Vermes said. “He can play with his back to the goal and he’s strong. He’s got a lot of ability.”
“He’s really talented,” echoed Bunbury. “He’s a strong guy, and coaches love him because he pursues the ball. He’s going to help us.”
Sapong wasn’t the only newcomer to make an impression Tuesday. Vermes was pleased with forward Omar Bravo, the team’s latest designated player who was lured away from Chivas Guadalajara to Kansas City for this season.
“Omar was solid,” Vermes said. “He’s already started to get acclimated quickly. He’s such a smart player.”It’s safe to assume Bravo will play – a lot. Vermes said Bravo’s versatility could allow him to play up to five positions in Sporting KC’s system.
“He can play any of the three forward positions or two attacking midfielder positions,” Vermes said.
Forward Ryan Smith missed practice Tuesday with an undisclosed knee injury.
“He’s working out, doing things like riding a bike, at the training facility,” Vermes said. “I expect him to be back within a week or two.”