CJ Sapong finally had the season I'd been waiting for from him in 2017. He was excellent pretty much all year for the Philadelphia Union, deservedly earning his way into a couple of US national team camps and putting down a marker for the rest of the MLS-based US striker pool to look up at:
The problem with Sapong's season, then, wasn't productivity. It's that he had to do it almost all by himself.
No other Union player had more than seven goals, and while that can be kind of manageable if you're spreading the love a bit, Philly definitely were not. They scored 50 goals, ninth in the East.
So obviously that needs to be better, but there's a worry when looking at Sapong's underlying numbers as well. The vast majority of true center forwards have more than 80 percent of their shots assisted. Only 16.4 percent of goal machine Josef Martinez's shots were unassisted, as per American Soccer Analysis. Golden Boot winner Nemanja Nikolic was at 19.5 percent, and MLS Cup winner Jozy Altidore was at 19.1 percent. Ola Kamara was way down at 15.7 percent, and Christian Ramirez was even lower at 15.5 percent.
In our game, assisted shot attempts are almost always higher value than unassisted shot attempts. A shot assist tells you that, structurally, something has gone right with the attack. Philly should worry that Sapong's career year came during a season in which 22.4 percent of his shots were unassisted – not precisely an outlier of a number, but certainly higher than anything in the neighborhood of "ideal."
So Step 1 for Philly if they want to return to the playoffs is to find some help for Sapong not just in terms of other guys who can put the ball in the net, but in terms of guys who can make that overarching goal easier.
Now I'll leave the comments section to all the Union fans justifiably clamoring for a DP-caliber No. 10...