KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Just as he had hoped, C.J. Sapong is on another late-season scoring tear for Sporting Kansas City.
The big winger has three goals in his last two games, including a pair of headers in Saturday's 2-1 away victory over Toronto FC, after netting just once in his first 19 appearances. Last year, Sapong scored four times in his final seven games.
“I knew I had the ability,” Sapong told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. “It was just that sometimes you get in situations where you're kind of tested, and your mindset might go astray. You've just got to deal with the punches as they come.”
But the way manager Peter Vermes sees it, Sapong's surge started well before his scoring spurt and even before his headed assist on Graham Zusi's late game-winner in a 2-1 home win over Colorado on Aug. 31. It began all the way back in Sporting's 2-0 CONCACAF Champions League win over CD Olimpia on Aug. 27.
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“He worked really hard when he came on,” Vermes said on Tuesday. “He helped us close out the game. He did everything he had to to help us win the game. I think that all builds little pieces of confidence.”
In fact, Vermes, said, Sapong's struggles earlier this year might have come down to an overemphasis on goal production.
“He was too focused on one aspect of his position,” Vermes said. “It hurt him in other areas. He was only worried about scoring, and it's not only about scoring. There are so many other pieces to that. I've always said that scoring is by committee. Different people are going to have to step up at different times. Everybody's going to have their moment.”
“I guess it could be,” said Sapong, who spent two short loan stints with USL PRO affiliate Orlando City earlier this year. “Obviously, at the beginning of the season I was approaching it with a different mindset. I kind of expected [scoring] out of myself, and when I wasn't getting it, it was decreasing my confidence a bit. When your confidence is low, a lot of things come into play and it makes for kind of a snowball effect.”
He's not lacking for confidence now, though. And that's showing on the pitch – even when he's not scoring.
“He's dominating,” Vermes said. “He's physically dominating in the game, and that's what we need from him because he is that player. And now he's doing it in training. If he keeps on that, it's going to make things very strong for us moving forward.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.