KANSAS CITY, Mo. – With Teal Bunbury off with the US Olympic team, that means C.J. Sapong’s name is – for now, at least – carved into the top of the depth chart at center forward for Sporting Kansas City … right?
Not so fast.
Yes, Sapong is coming off a Rookie of the Year season and two appearances off the bench for the US national team in the offseason. But the list of starting options up top runs well beyond Sapong and Bunbury, manager Peter Vermes said earlier this week.
“The great thing is, we don’t have just two,” Vermes said. “If you look at it, we have Jacob Peterson, we have Dom Dwyer, we have Soony Saad, we have Kei Kamara, we have Teal Bunbury and C.J. Sapong.
"All of those guys can play in that position. So it just depends on where things are going and what we’re doing. Different times, different guys will play.”
Bunbury started last week’s season opener at D.C. United, but it was Sapong who came off the bench to head in the stoppage-time game winner in Sporting’s 1-0 victory. If the “Who Starts?” debate was already lit, that just poured gasoline on it.
WATCH: Bunbury or Sapong?
At midweek, readers of MLSsoccer.com gave Sapong the overwhelming nod – 77 percent to 23 percent – in an informal “This or That” poll.
Sapong, who signed a new contract with the club on Thursday, said it doesn’t matter who’s in the starting XI if the results are coming.
“We are all fans of each other,” Sapong said. “We all want each other to succeed. We help each other in training and we help each other get better throughout the season. It’s nothing we pay attention to. If we did, I think it would show on the field and we wouldn’t be as cohesive as we are.”
Not that the debate, among supporters and neutral observers alike, should come as a surprise.
The more finesse-oriented Bunbury made 23 starts in 32 appearances and scored 12 goals in all competitions last year. Sapong, a more physical player who excels at holding the ball up and getting onto the end of crosses, made 25 starts in 37 appearances and scored seven times.
But if there’s a controversy, Sapong said, it’s being played out outside the confines of the club.
“Everybody feels like they have an opinion,” he said. “Everybody feels like they know what needs to go on, but at the end of the day, it’s all about who’s in the locker room and our coaching staff.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.