CHESTER, Pa. -- It was just last month when C.J. Sapong was in California for a league-mandated rehab stint following a DUI arrest, thinking about all the things that had gone wrong for him.
Now, he’s playing arguably the best soccer of his career.
On Wednesday night at PPL Park, Sapong matched a Philadelphia Union record with his fourth consecutive game with a goal, spurring Philly to an important 1-0 win over the Seattle Sounders.
“Things happen in life that put moments in front of you and I think it’s about how you respond to the adversity,” Sapong said. “Right now, I’m enjoying life off the field and enjoying it on the field as well.”
Sapong, who spent his first four years as a pro in Kansas City, said his current run of games is “probably” the best of his career. And it couldn’t be coming at a better time for the Union, who don’t have any other seasoned strikers with Fernando Aristeguieta, Conor Casey and Sebastien Le Toux all out injured.
“He’s doing a lot of the things that we brought him here to do,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said. “He had the little setback and I think he learned a lot from that. His ability and his athleticism, you can tell center backs can’t stand playing against him. He’s a handful.”
Curtin has been particularly pleased with what Sapong’s been able to do with his hold-up play as a lone striker, using his physical style to win a lot of battles with defenders. But it’s been his goal-scoring surge that’s really prevented the Union from plummeting even further in the standings after a brutal start.
Since returning from his absence from the team, Sapong has scored in five of six games, helping Philly to three victories in that stretch. He now has a team-leading six goals, despite missing three games in March with a facial fracture and then three games in May after his arrest.
“Without him right now, we’d be in trouble,” Curtin said. “We don’t have a lot of depth there and C.J. has stepped up and given us big goals, which is huge.”
Curtin added that Saturday’s goal came at a huge time, as the Union failed to assert themselves against an undermanned and young Seattle squad throughout a scoreless first half. But in the 69th minute, Sapong rose to the occasion and to the ball, leaping to flick a Sheanon Williams cross past Seattle ’keeper Stefan Frei.
When asked about his connection with Williams, Sapong joked that he “had a headset on and he buzzed me and told me to make that run.” But in reality, Williams knew he just had to put the ball into the box and let the red-hot striker work his magic.
“The amount of head balls that C.J. wins is incredible,” Williams said. “He’s a monster. I just lofted it up and let him go get it.”
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Because of the Union’s injury issues, Sapong will likely get his fourth straight 90-minute game Saturday against the Montreal Impact at PPL Park, where he’ll to try to set the franchise record for consecutive games with a goal.
He’s certainly not worried about logging so many minutes after playing much less earlier this season. In fact, he’s embracing it.
“I feel really good,” he said. “When you’re tapping into an energy that’s, you know, just an all-appreciative-and-in-the-moment type of energy, it’s very different. I was probably fitter in the beginning of the season but I don’t think I could have gone through this stretch of minutes without feeling heavy in the legs.
“I’m just riding the wave.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at email@example.com.