CJ Sapong embraces Chicago Fire FC's new era: "It's a beautiful thing"

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LOS ANGELES — CJ Sapong is fully embracing Chicago Fire FC’s offseason reconstruction, both on and off the field, and he's done what he can to prepare for whatever it is.

That includes tracking down video of FC Basel during new Fire head coach Raphael Wicky's brief tenure as the Swiss club's manager.

“That's the beautiful thing about it, I don't know,” the veteran forward said when asked what he thought would most be different about the club. “We have new guys coming in, all guys who have [been] coached at high-caliber teams, and I've kind of enjoyed being a student, watching some old games from the new coach and FC Basel and having an opportunity to continue to craft my game.

“It's an opportunity for us to build something in Chicago and start from scratch. It feels like you're part of the beginning of something that can be great.”

There’s been a rebranding, which includes a new logo, new colors, new management and an old-home-turned-new at Soldier Field, following financial-services entrepreneur Joe Mansueto's move for full ownership four months ago.

The big technical moves occurred in late December, with Georg Heitz stepping in as sporting director and quickly bringing in Wicky, whom he'd hired during his time as FC Basel's sporting director, as well as technical director Sebastian Pelzer, a former defender for clubs in his native Germany and England.

Sapong scored 13 goals last year in his first Fire campaign following four seasons each with Sporting Kansas City and the Philadelphia Union. He expects to take on more of a leadership role after the departures of Designated Players Bastian Schweinsteiger, Nemanja Nikolic and Aleksandar Katai, captain Dax McCarty, and playmaker Nicolas Gaitan.

“It's going to be cool for me to kind of step into that leadership role ...,” Sapong said at last week's MLS Media and Marketing Tour at Banc of California Stadium. “The story of [the new Fire] is great, because as we're starting this new direction, it's giving our young guys an opportunity to kind of step into their own character.

“And then the vets, the leaders on the team, have an opportunity as well to start something really great. So it's a beautiful thing, and I'm excited.”

He's not sure exactly how the Fire will play or what his on-field role will be.

“That's all up to the preseason,” he said. “I've been doing some of my homework, so I can be a little bit ahead of the game [as camp begins]. But from what I've seen in highlights and how FC Basel played, I see that I'll have the opportunity to have an impact, and, for me, that's all I'm looking for.”

Sapong said the club’s rebranding and new direction provide “motivation and inspiration to start something new and build a legacy in the city.”

“I think at this time with the rebrand and new colors, we can ride a wave of excitement and really get those fans in the city that aren't as familiar with soccer to kind of jump in,” Sapong said. “They’ll recognize the history that the club has, but then I think they'll enjoy the possibility of being part of something greater going forward.”