After the match, Jim Curtin called it a “reset.” CJ Sapong hadn’t been finding the net at the striker position, but the Union head coach knew he had to find a way to keep a valuable piece of the team involved.
After moving to the wing, Sapong has been more than just involved: He’s been vital to Philly’s unbeaten run.
Against DC United, the Union asked a lot of their big man up front. Sapong had to help defensively as the home side pushed their fullbacks all the way up into Philly’s defensive line, then he had to gallop forward to create a numerical advantage on the right as the Union sought to penetrate DC’s back six. Whether it was hovering on the wing or drifting into the center, Sapong found ways to link with Keegan Rosenberry and Ale Bedoya that forced United to commit men deep. This made it increasingly difficult for the hosts to break out once they won the ball back, and all that defensive work that went in to controlling Sapong — who executed a wonderful early pirouette in the box — sapped the resistance from Russell Canouse and Junior Moreno in the center.
That’s why, when the Union broke out just before the half-hour mark, it was Sapong pulling away from DC’s defense that made the difference between a simple Bill Hamid save and Philly opening the scoring.
First, Sapong beat Paul Arriola up the right, taking Fafa Picault’s smart entry ball and laying it on a platter for Cory Burke. Not satisfied with that contribution, Sapong then cut in front of Canouse and put himself in the ideal spot to knock home the rebound when Burke’s shot was saved. Effort, intelligence, and tenacity all in one play.
Sapong went on to provide the primary assist on the Union’s second goal, rounding out a night that highlighted how much he means to this streaking Philly team. And the fans rightly recognized Sapong’s work by awarding him Man of the Match.