CJ Sapong celebrates his goal on Saturday night vs. the Houston Dynamo

Philadelphia Union hoping CJ Sapong rediscovers Rookie of the Year form in Philly

Early in the 2014 season, the Philadelphia Union traded for Andrew Wenger and helped him unlock some of his massive potential.

Less than one year later, the Union hope a new environment will do the same for Wenger’s former teammate at Reading United AC: C.J. Sapong.

In a busy day of activity that also saw the Union deal franchise original Amobi Okugo to Orlando City and decline the options on five players, Philly dealt their top pick in the upcoming SuperDraft to Sporting Kansas City for Sapong to bolster an attack that already features the emerging Wenger and the reliable Sebastien Le Toux.

“C.J. and Andrew actually played together at Reading, and I think obviously that’s what we’re hoping for,” Union technical director Chris Albright said in a conference call with reporters on Monday. “For a young guy, C.J. has quite a resume and a lot of experience in our league. I think he gives our attack a real dynamic element with his versatility, athleticism and ability to score goals.”

In addition to having strong relationships with Wenger and fullback Ray Gaddis – another one of his teammates with Reading United AC, Philly’s USL PDL affiliate, in 2010 – Sapong brings something else the Union really like: a winning pedigree.

The 2011 MLS Rookie of the Year has played in 10 playoff games and helped SKC win the MLS Cup last year. The Union, by contrast, have only been in two playoff games in the club’s five-year history, winning none.

“He’s an important piece of the winning culture we are trying to build,” Albright said. “He understands the sacrifice it takes to win an MLS Cup and he was a big part of that success in Kansas City. And he’ll be only 26, which means he’s just entering his prime and we are really thrilled to see what that looks like in Philadelphia.”

While Sapong has certainly enjoyed success in MLS, he also has room to grow. After scoring 14 goals in 65 appearances in his first two seasons in the league, he only had six in 45 games over the past two years.

Nevertheless, Albright said the Union have had their eyes on the James Madison product for a while and believe he can become an elite player in Philly.

“One of the things we talked about is to try to get a little bigger, stronger, faster in the offseason,” Albright said. “He certainly checks all of those boxes, and we’re looking forward to him being very productive for us this season.”

While excited about the offensive addition, Albright said that the Union still plan to look for a new striker, possibly from Europe, where the technical director has spent much of the past month.

And although the team declined the options on striker Conor Casey and Brian Brown on Monday, Albright didn’t rule out the possibility that Casey – a veteran forward who netted 18 goals in Philly over the past two seasons – also returns to the Union in 2015.

“Some of these [situations] are still playing out,” Albright said. “There are ongoing discussions with Conor and other guys [on our roster].”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.

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