CJ Sapong embraces supersub role despite Philadelphia Union's struggles

WASHINGTON – As the in-form striker in an out-of-form team, Philadelphia Union forward CJ Sapong could feel well within his rights to plead for more playing time.

He’s not about to, though.

After coming off the bench to score a third goal in as many matches during a 2-1 defeat to D.C. United Saturday, Sapong took the unusual step – for most forwards, at least – of embracing his recent supersub role.

“I feel like actually coming off the bench, it’s put me in the position to come at the game from a different angle,” said Sapong, who has scored twice as a reserve this season. “I think it causes a little bit of trouble for defenders to have my playing style come in late in the game. I think it’s something that will start to benefit us as the season goes on.”

Sapong’s heroics haven’t been enough to lift the Union out of a winless start that has extended to four games. And his dynamic 32-minute shift at RFK Stadium may force coach Jim Curtin to reevaluate giving the starting nod to offseason signing Jay Simpson.

But at age 28, Sapong may be more able – and perhaps more willing – to provide extra energy and danger in short bursts when the legs of the guys in the starting 11 are fading just a bit.

He now has five goals in his last 12 appearances as a sub, after finding the back of the net just four times in the first 41 games of his career.

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“I’m always going to relish any time I’m on the field, any time that I’m fighting [alongside] my teammates,” Sapong said. “Coming onto the field and feeling the energy of your teammates rise from me working hard, I will cherish that.”

On Saturday, Sapong's insertion nearly reversed the match singlehandedly.

Bill Hamid had already saved one of his dipping shots from the edge of the 18-yard box before Sapong pounced on a 71st-minute rebound of Alejandro Bedoya’s attempt to cut the deficit to 2-1.

Then in the 79th, Sapong cut back to evade Bobby Boswell’s challenge and thumped another shot on target that produced a brilliant sprawling denial from Hamid.

“There was a lot going on in there,” Sapong said of the sequence. “I just figured get it on goal. I couldn’t even see him, and he came out of nowhere and made a good stop. That’s how the game goes.”

Despite those tough breaks, the Union feel they’ve played better than their two points this season suggest. Sapong believes it’s not time to alter their approach just yet, even if that would mean more minutes on the pitch for him.

“The way we look at it is everything that went against us was inflicted by ourselves,” he said. “Everything was something that we could’ve done better. It’s … sometimes harder to come off the field after the game and know that you’re the one who put yourself in that situation. But on the flip side, you understand if you eliminate those mistakes or you eliminate those things, you will begin to see the results.”