Sapong’s strug­gles up front hurt in Port­land

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Matthew DeGe­orge mde­ge­orge@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @sports­doc­tormd on Twit­ter

Union for­ward C.J. Sapong strug­gled once again at striker dur­ing Satur­day’s loss in Port­land. He needs to find his form if the Union are go­ing to make the MLS play­offs.

In the rainy, rau­cous at­mos­phere of Prov­i­dence Park, the Port­land Tim­bers gave Jim Curtin plenty of pos­i­tives to fo­cus on.

The Philadel­phia Union man­ager was ef­fu­sive in his praise of the hosts, who claimed a 2-1 win, show­ing their MLS Cup cre­den­tials in a match in which the Union hung tight but lacked that de­ci­sive, championship trait to threaten for the full three points.

“We made a cou­ple mis­takes,” Curtin said. “I think they made a cou­ple mis­takes. We got pun­ished for ours. (Fa­nendo) Adi and (Diego) Va­leri were a hand­ful, and they made us pay.”

The Tim­bers nar­rowly out­shot the Union, 18-15, with the Union own­ing the edge in shots on tar­get at 8-6. But few of Jake Gleeson’s seven de­nials fell into the “spec­tac­u­lar” cat­e­gory, cour­tesy of waste­ful fin­ish­ing. (His most elec­tri­fy­ing save of the night, or so it ap­peared in the mo­ment, oc­curred on a shot CJ Sapong rat­tled off the post.)

Therein lies the crux of the Union’s re­cent is­sues: They are cre­at­ing a glut of chances, suf­fi­cient to earn re­sults nightly, but they’re not find­ing the back of the net nearly enough. The syn­drome con­cen­trates on Sapong, the front-run­ner nom­i­nally tasked with spin­ning chances into goals. But again Satur­day, he was muted, a stark con­trast to the dev­as­tat­ing fin­ish­ing and re­lent­less preda­tory verve with which his op­po­site num­ber, Adi, at­tacks games.

Sapong has just one goal from the run of play and two to­tal since midMay, in­clud­ing a month out with an an­kle in­jury. Adi equaled that first tally with the game-win­ner in the 53rd minute, a con­sum­mate fin­isher’s goal as he carved out a sliver of space on Josh Yaro and deftly redi­rected a driven Dar­ren Mat­tocks cross home.

But more damn­ing than the re­sults is Sapong’s process. Adi Satur­day col­lected seven shots, three on tar­get, the 6-foot-4 Nige­rian show­ing why he’s drawn multi-mil­lion-dol­lar of­fers from Euro­pean suit­ors.

Sapong, mean­while, fired two shots, one on tar­get, a harm­less ef­fort into Gleeson’s bread­bas­ket in the 68th minute for his first shot on tar­get since Aug. 20.

Sapong, in his last 10 games (all starts), has a grand to­tal of 11 shots, dat­ing to mid-July. In three out­ings this week alone, in­clud­ing Port­land’s CON­CA­CAF Champions League match with Deportivo Saprissa, Adi has pro­duced 13 shots, six on tar­get and three goals.

“Both teams had their chances tonight,” said Chris Pon­tius, who pot­ted his 11th goal of the season. “In key mo­ments in the game, we turned off right at the start of the sec­ond half. You talk about things you need to do in the locker room and then come out a lit­tle flat, they catch us off guard and it’s 1-0. We re­spond well to it though, get back to 1-1. At that point, they had a few chances, we had a few chances. They end up putting theirs away.”

De­spite the paucity of tan­gi­ble im­pact on the game, Sapong wasn’t the first Union player subbed off, with Fabian Her­bers, who set up Pon­tius’ goal a minute after Va­leri’s opener and has been the team’s most ef­fec­tive at­tacker the last month or so, ex­it­ing for Ilsinho.

Char­lie Davies, the only ros­tered rem­edy up top, en­tered in the 74th, mark­ing his long­est of six sub­sti­tute ap­pear­ances since his ac­qui­si­tion, to­tal­ing all of 62 min­utes.

Those cameos, per the re­frain Curtin struck again, make it hard to judge Davies’ progress from a long lay­off for cancer treat­ment. But a longer au­di­tion? Doesn’t sound like some­thing Curtin is keen on yet.

“Char­lie put a lot into it, did a lot of dirty run­ning,” Curtin said, “but again we prob­a­bly didn’t get enough balls into his feet to get a true judge­ment of him or as­sess­ment. He worked his tail off, did ev­ery­thing I asked him.”

The striking woes are a more chronic de­fect than the other ills blight­ing the Union (11-11-8, 41 points) Satur­day. Yaro was sent off for an iffy yel­low card, then a no-doubter straight red in the 85th, which ex­tin­guished dim come­back hopes. It’s the rookie’s sec­ond red, and it opens the door for Ken Trib­bett to play next week in Toronto, the team that torched him so badly that he was re­moved at half­time when the teams last met.

Rarer was the de­gree to which Mat­tocks owned Kee­gan Rosen­berry on the flank. He as­sisted on both goals and gen­er­ally bossed the Tim­bers’ left flank, un­til Yaro took a chunk out of him for the red.

Dis­ap­point­ing as the cur­tain-raiser on the piv­otal three-game road swing was, re­sults else­where fell fa­vor­ably for the Union. They be­gan the week eight points clear of the near­est team on the wrong side of the red line in sev­enth. They’ll end the week­end seven clear, with D.C. United draw­ing, Or­lando City los­ing and Mon­treal, in fifth, fal­ter­ing again at home.

That’s at least some con­so­la­tion for a dispir­ited re­turn flight home.

MOLLY BLUE — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS (VIA THE OREGONIAN)

Union goal­keeper An­dre Blake, in yel­low, blocks the ball dur­ing a match against the Tim­bers Satur­day in Port­land, Ore.

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