Just when everything seemed to be going perfectly for C.J. Sapong and the Philadelphia Union, the hulking American striker has found himself in a bit of a slump. He hasn’t scored or assisted in his past four games and has scored only one goal in his past seven. It’s not exactly what you’d want from a starting striker. Naturally, you’d expect the Union to be struggling as well.
But they aren’t. In fact, the Union are still four points clear at the top of the East and they’ve yet to lose a game in those seven matches where Sapong has only scored one goal.
It brings back a certain memory I’m having of speaking to Sapong when the Union originally burst out of the gate. He noted that, with the Union, everyone picks up each other’s slack. Everyone goes that extra mile and when one guy drops the ball a bit, someone is right there to pick it up.
What better example than what is going on right now with Sapong himself? Despite scoring just once in the past seven games, the Union have scored 11 goals in that span. They have taken points from MLS’s best, the Colorado Rapids and also from the LA Galaxy and the Columbus Crew, among others. There is no team that has made the Union look vulnerable, with or without Sapong scoring.
Which brings about the next point. Even without Sapong scoring, he is still contributing in other ways. Sapong is an aerial menace who wins over three aerial duels per game. Those aerial duels create chances in and around the box and those chances turn into goals.
The Union commentators said not long ago that, even when Sapong doesn’t score, he still has a foot or leg or knee or head in every single build up. And when you watch the Union, it is so clear that they are right.
I’m going to let my Arsenal-affinity shine through here, but I compare Sapong to Giroud. Giroud does not always score (don’t get me started on that), but even when he doesn’t, he takes up so much space and occupies attention in the box so much so that his team mates have a ton of room to navigate close to the box.
Sapong does the same thing in Philly. By having such a strong frame and by being such a threat, he occupies attention and he occupies bodies. That allows guys like Chris Pontius, Tranquillo Barnetta and Sebastien Le Toux to navigate close to the box and score for themselves.
It will all even back out. Just give it time.