Reception among Chicago Fire fans was somewhat mixed when the club announced the acquisition of CJ Sapong earlier this year. While the 30-year-old U.S. international is a proven forward from his days in Sporting Kansas City and the Philadelphia Union, his last season with the latter didn’t pan out as well.
Fans were left wondering if Sapong would be a starter or would be starting from the bench, but those questions went away during the 2-1 season opener loss against the LA Galaxy.
The 2011 MLS Rookie of the Year took advantage of a bad pass and made an absolute fool of David Bingham and scored on his debut for the Fire. Sapong continued strong throughout the rest of the game, creating chances left and right but the whole team ultimately fell short. Despite the loss, Sapong quickly became a fan-favorite among the Fire faithful. His positive attitude on and off the pitch quickly resonated well throughout the community.
A week later, Sapong fully ingrained himself into the hearts the supporters with a 95th-minute equalizer against Orlando City. Two goals in two games, that’s already half of his tally last season.
Sapong once again stepped up to the occasion in the 4-2 loss against the Seattle Sounders. Despite the team crumbling around him, Sapong was able to create chances for his teammates. In the 23rd minute, Sapong laid the foundation for Nemanja Nikolic to get the Fire back on the board. During the second half, he provided the assist for Raheem Edwards.
Off the pitch, Sapong remained strong to his charity work. Last month, he tweeted out a picture of himself in an Edgewater Castle jersey promoting soccer for all.
Respect @EdgewaterCastle ✊— CJ Sapong (@BigAfrika88) March 20, 2019
Edgewater Castle football club is designed to provide all citizens of North Chicago and all communities therein with a high-quality, organized and uniquely accessible soccer club experience.
Any and everybody deserves an opportunity to play! ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/J0L6UrMpWJ
With the signing of Nico Gaitán left fans to wonder if Sapong would still remain in the starting XI. However, the prospect of being potentially benched doesn’t seem to faze him. Despite not scoring in the 1-0 win against the New York Red Bulls, Sapong’s work rate on the pitch was sublime. His defensive work out on the left was largely left unnoticed, but it was key to keep the flow going. It gave me flashbacks of Michael de Leeuw at his peak with the Fire.
And during last Saturday’s match against Toronto FC, Sapong once again reignited the Fire with an equalizing goal during stoppage time of the first half.
@BigAfrika88 levels with the lefty chip!#TORvCHI #cf97 pic.twitter.com/ImDYE2jaJU— Chicago Fire (@ChicagoFire) April 6, 2019
But good things will eventually come to an end. Once Gaitán becomes fully integrated and Przemysław Frankowski recovers, it’s most likely that Sapong will be relegated to the bench. But if his commitment to the badge remains constant, he will continue to deliver strong performances regardless of how he’s deployed.