KANSAS CITY, Mo. – It's nine matches into Sporting Kansas City's season, and C.J. Sapong is still waiting for his first goal of 2013.
While the young forward isn't talking about his dry spell, manager Peter Vermes said he remains confident in Sapong and committed to the decision to move the 2011 Rookie of the Year into an outside position in the lineup.
After nine matches a year ago, Sapong had already netted three of his nine league goals for 2012 – including one against Chivas USA, who visit Sporting Park on Sunday (5 pm ET, UniMas). But those goals all came from the center forward position – not the wing, where Sapong has largely supplanted veteran Bobby Convey on the left side.
“It's part of his development. It's part of his evolution as a player,” Vermes said on Friday, during the club's weekly news conference. “Some of it's position. Some of it's just a difference for him in what he's seeing on the field. It's all of that.
“Sometimes you've just got to take a little more risk,” Vermes added. “Sometimes you've got to be a little calmer. There are a lot of things that go into it. It's not just one thing. But as I've said before, he gives us a lot of qualities that help our team.”
Sapong's size and strength – he's 6-foot-1, 185 pounds – are among those attributes. Sapong creates a lot of mismatches with that frame, making him the second-most-fouled player in the league (23) behind FC Dallas' David Ferreira. That, in turn, creates set-piece opportunities.
Another of Sapong's strengths, his ability to hold up the ball while being heavily defended with his back to the goal, has served him well in another way on the wing. Twice this year, he has helped Sporting kill out a match by working the ball into the corner and keeping it there.
And on the whole, Vermes said, playing on the wing is easier than being a hold-up center forward.
“You face the field,” he said. “You don't have anybody teeing off on you that you don't see coming. There's really not a lot of difference in the position, outside of a person's head, because at the end of the day the only thing you have is a little difference in your defensive responsibility. The attacking side of it, when the ball's on the other side of the field from you, you're almost like a second forward anyway.”
Vermes cited winger Kei Kamara, whose loan to Premiership side Norwich City is up this weekend, as an example of a player who thrived after a move to the wing.
“He was a center forward when he came here, and up to that point the most goals he ever scored as a forward was four,” Vermes said. “When he came here, I pushed him outside, and three years in a row he's in double digits. It just depends on how you take advantage of those opportunities that are available to you. It's that simple.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.