By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Apr 26, 2023) US Soccer Players – The final day of Major League Soccer’s primary transfer window didn’t deliver many at-the-wire deals. With most clubs’ rosters settled and the season well underway, the number of moves proved small and mainly involved a player moving for general allocation money.
In the only trade announced on deadline day involving a player going in each direction, Toronto FC added forward CJ Sapong from Nashville SC for center back Lukas MacNaughton and $125,000 in general allocation money that could increase by $75,000.
Toronto FC is Sapong’s fifth MLS team in a career that goes back to 2011. After playing college soccer in his home state of Virginia at James Madison University, Sapong arrived in Kansas City as a first-round draft pick just as the club was beginning its new era as Sporting Kansas City.
In his first season in the league, he scored five goals and won the Rookie of the Year Award. Since then, Sapong has added 84 goals to his total during stints with Philadelphia, Chicago, and Nashville. He spent the last three seasons with Nashville, where he found the net 17 times. His first year in Nashville was particularly productive, with 12 goals in 2,207 minutes as he helped them make a second-consecutive playoff appearance. Last season Sapong scored five goals in 33 appearances.
Through eight games, Sapong is still looking for his first goal of 2023. He’ll now get a chance to find it while playing in coach Bob Bradley’s dynamic 4-3-3 system in Toronto, where the wing positions are manned by designated players Federico Bernadeschi and Lorenzo Insigne.
Sapong arrives in Toronto to help the club at center forward. Striker Adama Diomande, acquired over the winter, has been limited to just two appearances due to injury and has yet to return to the field since subbing out against Atlanta United on March 4.
Last week against the Union, Bradley fielded a team without a clear striker. Insigne’s return put another attacking option on the field, with Toronto deploying Bernardeschi in a free role at the top of the formation. Toronto was trailing 4-0 when Insigne scored in the 66th minute, ultimately losing 4-2 to the Union.
The winless run for Toronto is now five, leading the league in draws with six. With nine teams reaching the postseason in each conference, it’s entirely too early to panic, though the pressure is rising for TFC to get back to its winning ways. Even with a difficult run of injuries, the talent remains in place for Toronto to push forward.
Sapong’s holdup play is an order of magnitude better than anything Toronto has had in the lineup since Adama went down. That’s something that should help Bernadeschi, Insigne, and TFC’s midfielders find more of the ball facing goal. He will also represent a dangerous target that opponents must account for when the ball is in wide areas and when Toronto has set pieces.
“CJ has a long track record of scoring goals in MLS,” Bradley said via a club statement. “His work rate, mentality, and ability to impose himself on opponents in front of the goal are some of the important qualities we look forward to seeing from him here at TFC.”
He can be valuable in other ways as well. Whatever Sapong provides on the attacking end, his defensive work from the front could be just as important to a Toronto turnaround.
Sapong joins a group of veteran players in Toronto, many of whom have experience playing for the USMNT. Captain Michael Bradley was out for the matches against Atlanta and Philadelphia with a lower-body injury but isn’t expected to miss much more time. Bradley is an effective deep-lying defensive midfield presence and distributor. Putting Toronto’s last two results into context requires acknowledging what the team is missing without Bradley in the lineup.
Goalkeeper Sean Johnson and center back Matt Hedges arrived as free agents in the winter to strengthen a position that was an area of weakness in recent seasons. TFC’s defending has improved from last season, showing what they can build on for the next phase of this season.
Sapong’s potential debut is a home date when NYCFC visits BMO Field on Saturday. Getting healthy is key to Toronto’s chances of climbing the table, but the MLS veteran and his 89 career MLS goals are much-needed help.
Jason Davis is the host of The United States of Soccer on SiriusXM.
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Photo by Cory Knowlton – ZUMA Press Wire – ISIPhotos.com