C.J. Sapong rising? Sporting KC needs it to happen

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If Sporting Kansas City is to make some significant playoff noise, they’ll need the C.J. Sapong who showed up last night – except that he’ll need the young man to find his finishing shoes a little sooner.

Sapong is a major piece of the puzzle now that Teal Bunbury, the first-choice striker at Livestrong Sporting Park for most of 2012, is out for the year with a knee injury.

But a striker who doesn’t score in 12 matches is a striker whose value is highly suspect, and that’s where Sapong was going into Friday’s contest at Livestrong Sporting Park.

(MORE: Drilling down on Sporting’s 1-1 draw with Houston)

He was dangerous all night, finding the gaps between Houston’s center backs, and between the back line and Dynamo holding midfielder Ricardo Clark. Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall had something to say about another 90 minutes that came and went, looking like another goalless night for the striker. Still, the bottom line is that strikers have to score. Period.

Finally, Sapong finished the one that mattered most, right at the end, three minutes into stoppage time. Meaningful? You bet, says said teammate Graham Zusi, who supplied the telling assist and then later said this to the Kansas City Star:

That’s a big one for him. He was a good target for us up top all night. He was very unlucky not to be on the score sheet in the first half. Tally (Hall, Houston’s goalkeeper) came up with a huge save on his first-half header, but he came up big for us at the end.”

For everything we hear about Livestrong Sporting Park and how tough a place it is for opposition, the team’s record at home is just OK at 8-3-3. That’s the worst, in fact, among the top six teams in the East (although worse than Columbus’ home mark by only fractions). So, every goal will count in the playoffs around Livestrong; they may well need to win a 1-0 game here and there, and having a striker who is up for the job becomes a major part of that.

(MORE: highlights from last night’s match)