Tag Archives: CJ Sapong

Taking the Bad with the Good

Mercy Payba - Philadelphia Union/mlsfemale
Official Philadelphia Union Reporter

By Mercy Payba // @mercpay

Saturday, May 27: 1-0 Loss

It wasn’t a surprise that the Philadelphia Union’s winning streak was snapped in Rio Tinto Stadium. The odds were against the Philly team. If they had been able to produce a result against RSL, it would’ve been the first in the Union’s favor over the ten games they’ve played against Real Salt Lake. This game will be the only meeting between the two sides for this season.

Joao Plata got the only goal of the game after breaking away with the ball thirty-six minutes into the first half. Andre Blake had to make more saves in total than the amount of attempts the Philadelphia Union players made on Real Salt Lake’s net. Whether it was the altitude or the trip from Pennsylvania to Utah, the Union looked tired and disjointed. The only notable performance was Blake’s seven clearances, the highest of the season for him.

The first forty-five minutes was a single-minded attack by Plata that got the best of the defense after his fourth attempt. The Union had been caught off-guard before–and though Fafa Picault had a great attempt on goal that was first saved by Nick Rimando and ultimately cleared off the line by Aaron Maund–they did not rectify it like in previous instances of conceding a first half goal. Philadelphia attempted to find the weak spot of RSL’s defense with set piece plays with an early Jack Elliott header that hit the crossbar and a miss by Picault from a Haris Medunjanin cross to no avail.  

The first sub of the match for the Union was Jay Simpson for Picault to give a boost to the attack and give CJ Sapong a shift of pace on the left side of the field. Roland Alberg having been sidelined with an injury got subbed on for Chris Pontius on the wing. It was a painfully uninspired second half with RSL driving the ball where they wanted it for a majority of the time. The last thirty minutes saw little to no activity on the attacking side from Philadelphia with only a shot from distance by a desperate Medunjanin and a blocked kick by Fabinho. The Union debuted Marcus Epps in the dying minutes of the half in hopes of making a difference in the midfield where Ilsinho had been having trouble.  

Frankly, you could’ve skipped the entirety of the match to only see the first thirty minutes and known how the game was going to unfold. By the thirty minute mark, Rimando had made two saves and Blake three. It was down to the keepers and their defensemen in this game and the Union didn’t make the cut this weekend.  

The team boasted about a depth in squad earlier in the week and hinted that was the reason for their winning streak, and while I agree the subbing and implementation of players in different roles i.e. Ilsinho as a number 10, Pontius switching to the right wing, Alejandro Bedoya finding his role in the midfield worked for us, it doesn’t account for human error.

I mentioned before how Jim Curtin might have a problem with the word ‘rotation’ but he’ll have to keep it in mind in the following weeks. Medunjanin and Bedoya have been called up by their respective national teams for the world cup qualifiers during the break. We still have injured players (most recently Fabian Herbers) so Curtin will be put to the test following the international break.

Not to mention the next game Philadelphia has on the road against NYCFC will be no picnic. The team will be slipping down the table. There is no doubt about that, but what matters now is finding the spirit to keep fighting for a good position come September. June comes with the first game of the Open Cup for the Union along with two of the three consecutive home games and they cannot afford to repeat the March homestand.

Memories of the recent past aside, this could’ve just been a bad game and I’m hoping to see more of the Philly of weeks past than the team with the winless streak going forward. In this sport, you have to take the good with the bad. You never know what will happen in MLS.

My prediction for the next game: a Sapong goal, and depending how gracious NYCFC is feeling, a win.

Featured image courtesy: @PhilaUnion

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Praise to the Prince

Mercy - Philadelphia
Official Philadelphia Union Reporter

By Mercy Payba // @mercpay

Saturday, May 6: 3-0 WIN!

Right, so what can I say that hasn’t been said about this game? As always, the Philadelphia Union managed to surprise me (and probably the rest of the league) with the result on Saturday’s throwback night. I prepared myself diligently to say we made an effort, but couldn’t manage to pull through. Once I heard Richie Marquez, our CB constant, was going to be out of the lineup due to illness, I thought that was it. The New York Red Bulls were comfortably in the top part of the table while we had a 15 game winless streak as our claim to fame this season.

But CJ Sapong, our Fresh Prince of Chest-air, managed to break that streak with a hat-trick of goals in the second half, the third hat-trick in Union history.

Whatever might be happening in the business end of the Union, and as much faith as Earnie Stewart has in our team, this result was a visible step in the right direction. It couldn’t have been possible without Andre Blake in goal and Sapong up top. It couldn’t have been possible without our subs and it couldn’t have been possible without the whole team putting in the effort. Dare I say that the Union was a cohesive unit for the first time in months?

That is what Philadelphia needs to win games and that is what we need to show our potential; the potential that Jim Curtin and the rest of management have been reassuring fans has been there from day one.

I can’t tell you what stars aligned for this to happen. To be frank, the first half was possession heavy for the Union but there wasn’t much action. Our wingers were well-marked by the Red Bulls backline and ineffective overall. Oguchi Onyewu and Fabinho managed to scrape up key clearances and Blake was on top of things as the chances for the Bulls kept coming. The set pieces plays managed to be over-hit every single time by Haris Medunjanin from corners to free-kicks. It wasn’t all bad as Alejandro Bedoya managed to show off some of his skill just outside the box to stop Daniel Royer in his tracks and get a shot saved by Luis Robles.

Union ended up with a clean sheet by half-time, but the second half started with the Red Bulls on the offensive. It was to be expected; they lost in their midweek game against Sporting Kansas City and they wanted some road points to take back home with them. Philadelphia had to sub out Raymon Gaddis and Roland Alberg in the 62nd minute as the game got chippy and both men suffered a knock they couldn’t shake off.

In came the substitutions that made quite a difference to the back and forth play between the Bulls and the Union: Keegan Rosenberry and Derrick Jones. I don’t know if it was just fresh legs or a can-do attitude, but the fans could see a visible regroup by Philadelphia once they got on the field. It was the ‘do or die’ moment or perhaps the ‘join or die’ moment as the club’s motto goes.

Rosenberry had been benched since the home game loss against NYCFC in favor of starting Gaddis. He had something to prove out on the field and he wasn’t going to be stopped by the Bulls. His partnership with Chris Pontius worked in our favor as Bedoya moved into a no. 10 position. Pontius who had seen little of the ball in the first half managed to get in some good crosses to Sapong and put a little more pep in his step around the 72nd minute mark.

Anticipation was building. The air was filled with chants and support. The goal had to be coming and Sapong didn’t disappoint with a rocket to the top left corner of the net.

Seven minutes later, he does it again with help from a knockdown by Pontius with his head. At that point, I had never been happier to hear the DOOP song play again. The last time Philadelphia had a two goal lead at home was back in August of last year against SKC. Incidentally, it was also part of a second half effort with goals late in the game.

After all the excitement of the second goal, the Red Bulls got a corner kick off Jack Elliott. Bradley Wright-Phillips missed his chance, the ball going high above the net. A counter run by the Union ended in a penalty given by Damien Perrinelle’s handball. The man who stepped up to take it was, of course, CJ Sapong.

A hat-trick in a game most had dismissed as clear-cut in favor of the visiting team. Home ground advantage hadn’t exactly panned out for the boys in blue lately and the winless streak had been gaining an edge of optimism but was it really enough for Philadelphia to succeed?

The resounding answer was yes.

By the end of the game, no one could say it was a fluke that Philadelphia won. It was a moment long-awaited for the team and it came in a spectacular fashion. It only took eleven minutes in total for Sapong to give us a win, but it took all eleven men on the field to give us a victory.

As an end note, there was some criticism for the amazing remake of the “Fresh Prince” opening made by the team during the week, but I’m inclined to agree with my friend who said after the win: “It’s that Fresh Prince jawn that did it.” Maybe I’m a tad too superstitious but how could we not come out as winners with this masterpiece throwback?               

Next week: Union goes on the road to the capital. My prediction: A win for the Union. Things are looking up.

Featured image courtesy: @PhilaUnion

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @mercpay

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Subscribe + get caught up: Weekly Dispatch 2017