KANSAS CITY, Mo. – C.J. Sapong still isn’t 100 percent recovered from the hip flexor strain that has sidelined him for Sporting Kansas City’s last three MLS matches.
But as manager Peter Vermes looks at his roster and considers the aftereffects of Wednesday’s grueling US Open Cup final victory, he could call on the center forward to play a significant role in Saturday’s home meeting with D.C. United (8:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
“C.J.’s probably 80 percent,” Vermes said after Friday’s training session. “He’s still working back from where he was. It’s probably a combination of things. It’s the injury. It’s the fitness. It’s his timing. It’s everything. He’ll be available for tomorrow. I’m just not sure how I’ll use him.”
Suiting up and waiting has been the story of late for Sapong, who has five league goals and seven across all competitions this year for Sporting.
He was in the 18 for two of the three league matches in which he didn’t play, the exception being Sporting’s 1-0 win at New England last Saturday. In the Cup final, he replaced Teal Bunbury in the 89th minute and stayed on through overtime, but did not figure in the decisive penalty shootout.
“I’m still pretty sore,” Sapong told MLSsoccer.com on Friday, “but it’s nothing that I wouldn’t be able to get through. I feel like nobody this season is working on 100 percent anyway. I’ve just got to be mindful of it, get my treatment in and get back to 100 percent as soon as possible.”
The injury came in a training session in late July, as Sapong went to shoot.
“I took the shot wrong a little bit and just tweaked it,” he said. “It was at a time when we were playing a lot of games, so my body was probably deteriorated a little bit. You get injuries like that when you’re playing a lot of games.”
Sapong’s place in the game plan isn’t the only thing Vermes has to assess going into Saturday’s match against a United side that sits fourth in the Eastern Conference standings – but only four points back of co-leaders Kansas City and Houston, with two games in hand on both.
“It’s one part the physical side,” Vermes said. “The other part is mental and emotional. I’m going to spend some time this afternoon talking to a bunch of guys before they go, so I can get a good feel for that. It’s not a letdown. It’s whether they have enough in the tank to really do it.”
In the only previous meeting this year between Sporting and United, Sapong came on as a second-half sub to head in the game-winner in a 1-0 season-opening victory at D.C.
“I always look forward to playing them, because it’s my hometown team,” he said. “But as a forward, any time you can score goals – no matter what the circumstances are – you’re happy.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.