PHILADELPHIA — There’s no reason to sugarcoat C.J. Sapong and David Accam performances from the 2018 Major League Soccer season.
The Philadelphia Union players struggled through disappointing seasons in which Sapong failed to back up his double-digit goal total from 2017 and Accam dealt with lingering issues from a sports hernia injury, which he had surgery for near the end of last year’s campaign.
As the Union set bigger goals for 2019, Sapong and Accam have the personal drive to improve their individual performances while taking the team up a notch.
“There’s always going to be drive,” Sapong said during the Union’s first week of preseason training. “There’s a little bit more, yes. Also, me personally, I have to focus on the things that I do well and understand that even if the goals don’t come, there’s still things I can bring to the team. As long as I can stay connected to that, I know that I’ll be okay.”
“Last year was one of my worst seasons in my entire career,” Accam told ProSoccerUSA. “I have a lot of points to prove so I’ve done a lot of work in the offseason. I’m doing a lot of work now to prove to the club that I’m not a liability to them. I have a lot to give to the club this year.”
Playing time won’t come easy for either player with the Union loading up on a group of strikers who are also versatile enough to play out on the wing.
For Sapong, he has to find a way to break into the starting lineup against new signing Sergio Santos, double-digit goal scorer Cory Burke and Fafa Picault, who is moving up the depth chart to striker.
“I think it’s a good position to be in when you have a lot of attacking pieces because if one or two guys are in form, you can get a lot of goals in your team,” Sapong said. “We’re all just going to push each other. Obviously, everybody wants to be on the field, but it’s one of the better problems to have in terms of we’re going to ensure that whoever gets on the field is in top form and pushing the competition every day.”
Accam might have a similar amount of competition on the wing, as every member of the forward group has experience playing out on the flanks as well.
In addition, Accam has to fit into a new system, which has been a 4-4-2 diamond for the first two scrimmages of the preseason.
Some of the pressing qualities from the 4-2-3-1 the Union employed a year ago will remain, but there will also be new responsibilities.
“I think we have a lot of quality in the team attacking wise and we need to take advantage of it pressing high and staying high and keeping defenders on the back foot,” Accam said. “For us, it depends on how the coaches want us to play. They know the qualities we have and I know they will try to utilize our qualities to have the best success this year.”
As much as Accam and Sapong want to achieve success on an individual level, they also know it’s important for the team to take the next step after slipping up late in the regular season and losing in the knockout round to New York City FC.
“I think it boils down to now individually how those guys that were a part of that take that,” Sapong said. “Collectively, everybody knows the goals, but with us how people take it individually is what will propel us to the next level.”
“In those big games, it does take individuals to outperform their status and it takes guys to be a little more mentality tough as well,” Sapong said. “Collectively, the philosophy is there, our identity is there, it’s just now how fluid and cohesive are we to be able to count on guys in big situations like that.”
“I think everyone is hungry because we know the qualities and the talent we have here,” Accam said. “Last year, we came up short of the playoffs and I think that’s the motivation for everyone to go further than we did last year. There’s a lot of work to do, but the boys are really hungry.”