It’s still early days for the 2012 season, but C.J. Sapong has already all but wiped out any thoughts of a sophomore slump.
Sporting Kansas City’s second-year center forward has continued the form that earned him 2011 Rookie of the Year honors, with two goals in Sporting’s first two matches – and he doesn’t see that pace slowing any time soon.
“I’ve been fortunate to get a lot of opportunities and find myself in the right position, so I’m pretty happy about that,” Sapong said after Sporting’s 3-0 rout of New England in Week 2. “I’m pretty confident that I can continue the streak. “
The learning curve is still on the upslope, too, as Sapong continues to figure out his strengths and limitations.
After scoring early in the second half against the Revs, he had a chance for a breakaway second goal late in the game. He wasn’t able to finesse the ball around goalkeeper Matt Reis, though, and pushed his shot wide.
Manager Peter Vermes was in no rush to criticize the young striker – but it was a coachable moment.
“He’s not in that position a lot of times,” Vermes told MLSsoccer.com earlier this week. “You probably think he has been, but getting clear on a breakaway like he did is not common. He knows that he should have gone with the power and pace that he could have, either pushed it around and gotten by him or finishing on the first-time ball.”
That aside, Vermes likes what he sees in Sapong’s development.
“Obviously, a striker has to be able to score goals,” Vermes said. “That’s first and foremost. Then there are all the other things you have to look at: Is he a target forward? Is he able to lay it off? Is he a guy you can build through? Can he play in the combinations? Does he have breakaway speed to get away from guys? Is he good in the air? All those little things.
“He’s getting better at all of them, and then there’s the defensive responsibility as well,” Vermes went on. “That’s an area he’s been working on, and that continues to help us. The better he gets at being that first line of defense for us, the stronger we’re going to be defensively.”
And the more defensive attention Sapong draws from other clubs, the wider the door opens for his teammates to score.
“I would say there’s no doubt a certain focus will be placed on him,” Vermes said, “which then will give opportunities for some other guys at times.”
Against New England, for example, the Revs’ penalty area turned into Sporting’s private shooting gallery after he drew a red-card foul on defender Stephen McCarthy just 14 minutes in. Graham Zusi and Kei Kamara capitalized with first-half goals before Sapong added a capper shortly after the break.
“Everybody’s hungry. Everybody can score,” Sapong said. “We all approach it that way. Doesn’t matter what position you’re in, we know we have those capabilities.”