Red-hot Sapong says Union's start no fluke, team 'due for some hardware'

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

C.J. Sapong is making a case for a USMNT call-up as the catalyst of Philadelphia's surprising turnaround thus far this season.

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Few MLS teams have surprised more this season than the Philadelphia Union, which has taken the past two rebuilding years and turned them into a start which sees them sitting joint-top the Eastern Conference. No player has been more influential in that rise than sixth-year pro C.J. Sapong.

As the season goes on, we will continue to improve. We will surprise a lot of people.”

- C.J. Sapong

Sapong has turned himself into one of the more successful strikers in MLS this year, spearheading the Union attack and accounting for four of the team’s 10 goals. He says his teammates deserve credit for his success.

“It’s more so the energy of the guys around me and that philosophy,” he told FourFourTwo. “Everyone understands their roles and how the team wants to play. The guys around me want to do the dirty work and that gives me extra motivation. We are all growing together and I feel more comfortable than I have in years past.”

Sapong has been so much more successful this year thanks to that service from teammates. He has long made the most of opportunities in front of net, but this season, he is more influential in other areas of the field. Consider his game against New England on March 20, when he scored a brace in a 3-0 win. Sapong is not just hanging out in the box. He is tracking back to help out deeper in the park. He did the same against NYCFC on Saturday, when he made the most of his two opportunities inside the box.

Part of Philadelphia’s transformation is also the introduction of new faces. Chris Pontius, Roland Alberg and Ilsinho were all brought in before the season, but they clicked together quickly.

The Union’s offensive success also comes in spite of the absence of injured Maurice Edu. The former Stoke City man has been the pulse of this Union team the past two years, shoring up the back and being that leader at the base of the midfield.

Edu was declared healthy back in January, but what was originally thought to be a minor injury turned out to be a stress fracture in his left leg. Edu still figures to miss a couple more months before returning to action. Philadelphia hasn’t taken the loss of Edu as poorly as many may have expected.

“We have a lot of leaders who are a big part of everything. When it comes to game day, we have plenty of guys who step up,” he said. “It gives us an opportunity to showcase our leadership and ability away from Edu.”

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The arrival of Chris Pontius has done wonders for Philadelphia. (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)

Sapong specifically pointed out Pontius and the venerable Brian Carroll, who came to the club back in 2011, as the leaders filling the void.

“The talent has been here. The group cohesiveness has been missing,” Sapong said. “But not anymore. As the season goes on, we will continue to improve. We will surprise a lot of people.”

He continued: “[We have to] grind out those games where things seem to be against us. The last two away games – crazy weather, red cards – they throw a wrench into the game. To be fair, we responded very well. But the difference between a good and a great team is pulling points in those games.”

While all these things have brought the team together and will continue to do so, Sapong has a huge role to play as well. Sapong’s play has drawn attention from man who believe he should earn a U.S. national team call-up, but his goal right now is success in Philadelphia.

“To maximize my potential as a player as well as a teammate. This organization is due for some hardware. I want to score a lot of goals and create opportunities.”

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