KANSAS CITY, Mo. – C.J. Sapong is the first to acknowledge that this is not the way he expected to go. He's not shy about owning up to moments of feeling lost.
But in the next breath, Sporting Kansas City's third-year forward says he's grateful for the struggles that have characterized much of his 2013 campaign, and hoping to get hot down the stretch – something he's already proven he's capable of.
“This year was the year I had to face the most adversity, compared to my first two,” Sapong told MLSsoccer on Wednesday. “But looking back at it now, I wouldn't have had it any other way. It's made my growth transform to an exponential level, if you will. I'm just getting tested every day. Besides soccer, that's how I would like it in life, to be tested and to continue facing challenges to overcome.”
Sapong has had plenty of challenges this season after starting his MLS career on a strong upward arc.
Selected MLS Rookie of the Year in 2011, he made his US national team debut before the start of a 2012 season that saw him score nine goals claim the No. 2 spot on MLSsoccer.com's 24 Under 24 list.
This year, Sapong has just two goals in 20 appearances with eight starts, and has twice been sent on loan to USL PRO affiliate Orlando City. But in his past two outings, both home victories for Kansas City, he has shown signs of returning to the form that marked his first two seasons.
He came off the bench and assisted on Graham Zusi's game-winner in a 2-1 decision over Colorado on Aug. 31, then started and scored his first goal since May 5 in last weekend's 3-0 rout of Columbus.
“Last year around this time is when I went on a run, and it was the same kind of deal,” said Sapong, who scored four of his nine goals in Sporting's final seven regular-season matches. “I'd just come off of injury, and for me that was my first time having to sit out games because of injury, so that was another thing I had to deal with at that moment in time.”
A program of daily meditation helped him get through that rough patch, Sapong said.
“I had been practicing before that, but never really made any breakthroughs,” he said. “I was sitting there thinking, 'What am I doing? I'm just sitting here in the dark. I'm by myself.' But when I had my injury and I had a little more time to myself, obviously, it started getting better and more fruitful and had a lot of very fulfilling experiences meditating. It just helps me look at things in a greater light.”
And since then, that inwardly-focused time has been as much a part of Sapong's routine as anything he does on the pitch.
“Every day, at least when I wake up, I always try to – not always get into a deep meditative state, but just collect my thoughts and envision what I want for the day to go like, and envision happiness and love. Obviously when you come here and see these guys that you love to see every day, it amplifies that effect that you put on yourself.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.