The Union traded veteran striker C.J. Sapong to the Chicago Fire on Saturday, acquiring up to $450,000 of cash for cap space in Major League Soccer’s allocation money system.
Sapong, 30, came to Philadelphia in a trade four years ago from Sporting Kansas City. He was at or near the top of the forward depth chart for his entire time here. But he only rarely measured up to the expectations that come with the job. He scored nine goals in 31 games in 2015, and seven in 32 games in 2016.
In 2017, Sapong finally delivered. He scored 17 goals in 34 games, punctuating his total with two goals in the regular season finale to set the Union’s single-season scoring record. That earned him his first U.S. national team call-up in five years, and more importantly, a $225,000 pay raise and a contract extension from then-sporting director Earnie Stewart.
But Sapong reverted to his previous disappointing form in 2018, scoring just five goals in 36 games. He had a 15-game mid-year goal drought, and was demoted by Union manager Jim Curtin when Cory Burke rose to prominence.
Nonetheless, Sapong leaves Philadelphia as the Union’s second highest all time scorer, with 38 goals in 135 games across all competitions.
Sapong was projected to potentially be as low as No. 5 on the Union’s six-man striker depth chart, behind Sergio Santos, Burke, Fafa Picault and David Accam. When the Fire offered a greater sum for Sapong than the Union got for Keegan Rosenberry, sporting director Ernst Tanner took it.
“This was not an easy decision for all of us,” Tanner said. “But regarding the figures and also taking into account that C.J. was only left for us [on] one more year of [his] contract, we decided to do this. I wish C.J., certainly, all the best in Chicago — not in the games against us, but in all the games against everybody else. … Maybe this is a good move for C.J. himself.”
The Union will get $200,000 in general allocation money this year, plus an additional $100,000 in GAM for this year if the Fire are able to acquire it (which is to say, they don’t have it right now). If Chicago doesn’t acquire the money, it will convey to next year’s GAM pool.
Chicago is also sending $100,000 for Targeted Allocation Money in 2020, which can be used to buy down the cap hits of players whose salaries are above the Designated Player threshold. And there will be an extra $50,000 of TAM for 2020 thrown in if Sapong hits certain performance incentives this year. Specifics of the incentives weren’t published.
“Chicago approached us a couple of weeks ago, and at that time we felt not comfortable with [making] that decision, and [also] the figures. So they called it off,” Tanner said. “But they came back again, and it was a good time now for us.”
Union win preseason finale
The Union won their final preseason game, beating the second-tier USL’s Ottawa Fury 2-1 on Saturday afternoon in St. Petersburg, Fla.
With a lineup of mostly backups on the field to start, the Union gave up the game’s first goal to Ottawa’s Christiano François in the 21st minute. Kacper Przybylko tied the score in the 40th, finishing a cross from Olivier Mbizo. Fafa Picault, a 60th minute substitute, celebrated his birthday by scoring the winner on a penalty kick in the 65th after video review caught an Ottawa handball.
The Union’s lineup was (from left to right):
Forwards: David Accam (Cory Burke 60′), Kacper Przybylko (Fafa Picault 60′)
Midfielders: Brenden Aaronson (Marco Fabián HT) / Warren Creavalle (Alejandro Bedoya HT'), Anthony Fontana (Ilsinho HT') / Derrick Jones (Haris Medunjanin HT')
Defenders: Matt Real (Fabinho HT'), Aurélien Collin, Jack Elliott (Auston Trusty HT'), Olivier Mbaizo (Ray Gaddis 60′)
Goalkeeper: Carlos Miguel Coronel (Andre Blake HT')