KANSAS CITY, Kan. – C.J. Sapong came to Sporting Kansas City as a big, strong, hold-the-ball-and-win-the-header center forward.
He still is. But that's not all he is any more. Sapong's third season in MLS should see him get time all along the front line – especially early in the season, with two forwards working back from injury and another on loan in England.
“I don't see one of the three forward positions for him,” manager Peter Vermes told MLSsoccer.com shortly before Sporting's 3-1 season-opening win at Philadelphia. “I see all of those three in his future, and I love the fact that he can play all three. I would say he probably does that better than any guy right now in the group, and that's a great quality.”
So, Vermes said, is Sapong's growing physical and mental strength.
“This is the best I've ever seen him look,” Vermes said. “His body looks different. More mature. His play, he's very explosive. He's really sharp right now. The other great thing about him is he's very focused."
Sapong came on for left winger Bobby Convey shortly after the hour mark against Philadelphia, and his presence up front helped open up the Union's defense for Sporting's game-winning surge.
“C.J. was a handful out there,” Vermes said on Wednesday. “There was no fall-off at all.”
Sapong, second on the club with nine league goals in 2012, said he's comfortable playing any of the forward spots.
“I'm pretty confident playing with my back towards the goal and holding the ball up for my team, just staying strong and winning headers and doing a lot of dirty work,” he said last week. “Right wing, a lot of those things are the same as on the left. On the left, I can cut in and shoot with my right foot. Right wing, I can cut in. That's just my thing. I like to cut into the middle of the field where the space is. My right foot is also my strongest foot, so I can go down the line and put a ball in.”
That range of skills is especially important now, with center forward Teal Bunbury (torn ACL) and left winger Jacob Peterson (subluxed shoulder) recovering from surgery and right winger Kei Kamara on loan to the Premier League's Norwich City until May.
“I definitely take pride in the coaches viewing me as a versatile player,” Sapong said. “All of the positions have aspects that play to some of my strengths. It's pretty equal in that regard. I just like to be on the field helping my team.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.