Attrition leaves Sapong as SKC's choice at center forward

Sapong SKCvTOR

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – One of the questions going into this season for Sporting Kansas City was, “Who’s going to be ‘The Man’ at center forward?”

With eight games and the playoffs to go, the definitive answer has come. Teal Bunbury’s season-ending knee injury and Kei Kamara’s success on the wing have left C.J. Sapong as Sporting’s No. 9 going into Saturday‘s home game against Toronto FC (8:30 pm ET; watch LIVE online) and, barring a late signing, for the rest of the season.

But if Sapong – who is still playing his own way back from injury and hasn‘t scored in MLS action since mid-June – feels any extra pressure because of his situation, he isn’t showing it.

“I’m just glad to be getting more minutes,” he said on Wednesday, during the team’s weekly news conference. “Obviously, I can understand that for everybody looking at us, they want to see a lot of goals. But for me personally, I want to see my team win and I’m going to do everything in my power to make that happen.”

GOAL: Sapong smacks it past Kocic

Sapong has five goals in MLS play this year, the same number he has as the league’s Rookie of the Year in 2011. But he has been hampered by a groin strain in recent weeks and hasn’t found the net since a 2-0 home victory over TFC on June 16, an 11-match dry spell.

He’s taking the long view, though.

“I‘m not frustrated,” he said. “I look at this more as a journey than the here and now and what’s going on bit by bit.”

Manager Peter Vermes estimated Sapong was 80 to 85 percent recovered from the injury when last weekend’s home match against New York kicked off. But after Bunbury came off with a torn ACL just 14 minutes in, Sapong had to go the rest of the way in a 1-1 draw.

“Coming in the way I did against New York was, I guess, my ‘easing in,’” Sapong said. “I’m just excited to be back on the field and getting more repetitions with the starting XI. It’ll come back to me pretty quick, to be honest.”

And after that lengthy outing against the Red Bulls, he said he’s felt stronger this week.

“I can’t put a percentage on it,” he said. “I just know that nobody’s 100 percent right now. I just know I’m where I need to be to have an impact on the field.”

The injury also served as an object lesson in prevention, Sapong said.

“We had a stretch of a lot of games, and I got hurt at the end of that stretch. It just kind of reminded me that I need to take more care of my body,” he said. “I had a little problem before the stretch. I wasn’t all that professional in taking care of it, and I got injured and had to sit out a couple of games. That’s going to help me in the long run, because now I know the importance of taking care of my body.”

Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.