KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Sporting Kansas City don't lose when C.J. Sapong scores. Ever. And in a game they couldn't afford to lose, the young forward kept that streak of success – and Sporting's season – rolling.
Sapong's 14th-minute equalizer ignited Kansas City's comeback in Saturday night's 2-1 win over Houston in the second leg of the Eastern Conference Championship, propelling Sporting into the MLS Cup final on Dec. 7 at Sporting Park and improving their all-competitions record to 17-0-2 in games where he scores.
“I didn’t know that stat,” manager Peter Vermes said in the postmatch news conference, “but I’m going to tell him to score in the next game, so that we can win that one as well.”
Sapong, who had five goals in his Rookie of the Year season in 2011 and nine last year, netted only four times this year and spent some time on loan to USL PRO side Orlando City SC in an effort to help him find his form again. But against the team that knocked Sporting out of the playoffs in each of Sapong's first two seasons in the league, he came up big with a strong putaway off Bobby Boswell's defensive miscue.
Sporting's Benny Feilhaber sent a through ball into traffic in the penalty area, and Boswell misplayed it right into Sapong's path for an easy finish from close range.
“It was great because of the type of goal it was,” Sapong told reporters. “It was one of those goals where focusing on staying alert and following the play, the ball finally took a bounce in my direction and I was able to put it in.”
Vermes was especially impressed with Sapong's strong run to get into position for the goal – part of an active night that almost saw him net a second goal from close range in first-half stoppage time. Kofi Sarkodie's slight deflection of Dom Dwyer's cross put the pass just behind where Sapong needed it – and made for a scary moment when Sapong tripped over the ball and came up holding his right arm. He had to come off the pitch early but returned after the half.
“The thing I would say about C.J. is that he has not figured out how dominant he is,” Vermes said. “He doesn’t realize how strong, how powerful he is. But when he’s making the kind of runs he was tonight in the box, it’s the reason why he can score. When he’s busy like that, that’s when he’s dangerous.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.