Last week it was announced that Sporting KC’s CJ Sapong was named the MLS Rookie of the Year...
The recognition wasn’t all that much of a surprise given the season that CJ put together for KC. But remember when Sporting drafted the youngster with the 10th overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft last winter? Almost universally, the pick was criticized by soccer people as a severe reach.
Most other teams didn’t even have Sapong on their boards, let alone in the top ten.
But Sporting boss Peter Vermes was sold on the big, athletic, humble attacker, and he put his money where his mouth was in sticking to his guns and drafting the James Madison product with Sporting’s first pick.
Recently, I had the chance to speak with James Madison head soccer coach, Dr. Tom Martin, about Sapong’s four years on the collegiate level and his first year as a pro. Certainly, Martin may be a bit partial to his former player, but when asked if he had any idea that Sapong would excel so quickly in MLS, he didn’t hesitate.
“My view of the draft was that Sporting got a steal, and in my opinion he could play right away with the team,” Martin says. “The college game does produce players that can contribute right away and he is a fine example of that. Kudos to Sporting. They got the right guy.”
Martin said that CJ exploded somewhere around his sophomore season at JMU.
“About that time in his college career he literally took off,” Martin sasys. “After getting hard tight marking, kicked around and fouled constantly in the college game-he became a soldier, never complaining and just worked harder to get the job done. I have been doing this a long time – and even got Vermes to complete a questionnaire when coming out of Delran HS – and as such had a number of very good college players. But, with the attitude, athleticism, skill set and work rate-CJ is at the top of the list. ”
When asked what Sapong was doing in the MLS that allowed him to make the transition so easily, Martin indicated there was no magic, just consistency.
“The same things he did here [at James Madison]. Fabulous work rate, great attitude, and his athleticism is above most players I have had, or seen.”
The attitude part is one thing that most everyone points out when discussing CJ.
“His honor is good for college soccer in general,” Martin says. “He is the consummate teammate. Great attitude in the locker room, off the field and a radiant personality. Just ask Hope Solo. Seriously though, for me he never had a bad day. If anything, there were times that we had to ask him to either take some time off or even train for a shorter time to recover properly. His attitude can be infectious to teammates, and was. I could not be happier for him and more proud of him. In my opinion, he got exactly what he deserved and worked for.”