Eight games into the season, C.J. Sapong has yet to score a goal for Sporting Kansas City.
It’s noteworthy, because it’s never taken Sapong more than 20 minutes in any professional season to stick one in the net.
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On the way to rookie-of-the-year honors two years ago, Sapong scored 2 minutes into his MLS career during a 3-2 win at Chivas USA on March 19, 2011. He finished that season with five goals in 34 games, including 22 starts.
Last year, Sapong subbed on with 15 minutes left during the season opener at D.C. United, netting the game-winning goal in a 1-0 victory that kicked off Sporting KC’s run to a second straight Eastern Conference regular-season championship. He racked up nine goals by the season’s end.
But through 588 minutes in 2013, Sapong, a center forward who has slid out to the wing this season in manager Peter Vermes’ 4-3-3 system, has yet to punch one past the opposing goalkeeper.
“Would I like to see him score more goals? Absolutely, but he provides so many other things in the game for us that he’s still an asset on the field,” Vermes said.
During the offseason, Sporting KC added Claudio Bieler, a Designated Player from Argentina by way of LDU Quito in Ecuador’s first division.
Bieler immediately became the club’s new starting center forward, which pushed Sapong out wide as the replacement for Kei Kamara at right wing.
It also pushed Sapong, who is renowned for his hold-up play with his back to goal, out of his comfort zone.
“I have a little more space and more options to play (on the wing),” said Sapong, who also has spent time at left wing as the season has progressed. “The position also requires a lot more stamina. There are extra responsibilities. You’ve got to get back on defense and be constantly aware of the defender behind you and the attacking midfielders.”
As the center forward, it is much easier to become disconnected from the game, but taking even the occasional play off is a luxury Sapong no longer can afford.
“He’s developed into a much smarter player,” left back Seth Sinovic said. “Obviously, he’s physically gifted in a lot of different areas. I wouldn’t want to play against him. It’s difficult to play somebody that’s that big and that strong and that fast.”
It should become even more difficult as Sapong’s game continues to grow and mature.
Already, Sapong is making strides.
“Where he’s starting to evolve and get better is his runs out of that place — and not with the ball, without the ball,” Vermes said. “He’s moving better off the ball now, which I think will tend to get him more chances in and around the box.”
So far, that’s the piece that remains elusive — converting those positive steps into goals.
“I’ve been evolving ever since I got here, no matter what position I’m in, but even more so now in a position that I didn’t play before I got here,” Sapong said. “If there’s anything I need to work on, it’s my finishing, and that just comes with confidence.
“I feel like once I get that first one in, I’ll gain more confidence and hopefully the goals will start flowing. I feel like one’s coming soon, but I’ve been feeling that way for a couple weeks.”