HIGHLIGHTS: New York Red Bulls vs. Philadelphia Union | May 24, 2015

CHESTER, Pa. – As C.J. Sapong waited to enter Sunday’s game vs. the New York Red Bulls in place of Conor Casey, Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin noticed something in his striker’s eyes.

“He looked possessed,” Curtin said. “Like he had something to prove.”

And that’s what he did.

After missing three games while undergoing an assessment by the league’s Substance Abuse and Behavior Health program following his May 1 DUI arrest, Sapong looked very sharp in his return, scoring a goal in 36 minutes to help the Union earn a 2-0 win over the Red Bulls.

And the refreshed and rejuvenated forward will remain a key piece in the attack when the Union face his hometown club D.C. United at RFK Stadium on Saturday (7 pm ET, MLS LIVE).

“It was a good feeling,” Sapong said. “A lot of hard work and growth was put into the last couple of weeks. It feels good to get rewarded. It was a great team win and I think it’s something we can build on.”

Sapong was far removed from the Union for most of the month, doing his league-mandated rehab stint in Malibu, California. But he said he watched highlights of the Union’s games and sent texts to teammates to wish them luck, all while keeping his fitness up through workouts with a soccer trainer on the premises.

Most importantly, though, Sapong says he spent time focused on his own personal situation and learning from his experiences.

“It was a good time for reflection for me,” he said. “It was another opportunity for growth. I try to look at any kind of speed bump or challenge as that. It was tough being away from the guys, but it kind of made me a little more appreciative when I got back and I was able to be on the field with them.”

Curtin said he didn’t talk to Sapong too much during his rehabilitation, as he wanted to let the league “go through their process.” But he did exchange some texts with him, and was pleased to see how the 26-year-old was handling a difficult situation.

“It sounded like his days were busy and were filled with a lot of things that gave him new perspective on some different things – not only the game but being a man, and growing up,” Curtin said. “He kind of embraced the process and I think he learned a lot from it and I think he’ll be better for it.

“And if those 35, 40 minutes he gave us against the Red Bulls are a sign of things to come, we’re in a good spot.”

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