[MLS] James Madison University failed to reach the NCAA playoffs last season, but the Dukes’ CJ Sapong became the first player in JMU history to get picked in the first round of the MLS draft. It might be difficult for a rookie striker to break into an MLS lineup, but one of Sapong’s biggest fans says that he's up for the challenge.
“One thing about CJ is that he’s always been able to prove himself,” says CJ’s mother, Gillian. “Whenever he’s been on the bench, he didn't get discouraged but had the attitude that it’s up to him to get on the field.
“He wouldn’t complain, but he’d work hard and be happy when he did get a chance, no matter how much playing time he got.”
Sapong, a Virginia product whom Sporting Kansas City grabbed with the 10th overall pick, won three state championships with his youth club PWSI Magnum. In high school (Forest Park) and at JMU, he started on the bench before quickly turning into a key contributer.
Gillian says that after a few cameos at JMU, Coach Tom Martin told her husband, Kofi, to encourage CJ to take control of the game the way he did at the youth level. And that CJ did.
He was conference Rookie of the Year, a CAA first-team all-conference selection all four years (a first for a JMU player) and finished with 37 goals and 21 assists.
"This guy is athletically incredible – very explosive, very powerful and he plays very well with his back to the goal," says Kansas City coach Peter Vermes.
When Sapong was 6, he signed up for soccer, basketball and baseball.
“It's funny, I'd play a half (of soccer), and my baseball game would be just across the street and I'd go play a couple of innings there, and (then) I'd make it just in time for my basketball game,” Sapong told JMUSports.com. “I remember wearing my basketball jersey underneath my baseball jersey sometimes, just hop in the car and go straight to the (basketball) court, play a couple of quarters and then straight to the soccer game.”
Although he played basketball up to his sophomore year in high school, soccer became his main focus, which suited his parents, both of whom emigrated from Ghana ("Where there's soccer everywhere," says Gillian) and met in the USA.
“Being that my parents are from Ghana, [soccer’s] what they knew,” he said, “and that's what my dad could help me with when I got home.”
Gillian recalls how delighted Kofi was as CJ developed into a goalscorer.
“The first time CJ scored on a header,” says Gillian as she tries to hold back the laughter, “his father tried to run onto the field to hug him. But he didn’t reach him because he slipped and fell down.”