Sporting Kansas City's hopes of playing for this season's MLS Cup may have fallen a game short, but the club can boast having the league's 2011 Rookie of the Year on its roster.
Forward C.J. Sapong was a runaway choice as Major League Soccer's top rookie in a vote by media, the league's players and club management . Sapong scored five goals and had five assists for Sporting in his debut season, and is the only player on the club's roster to appear in all 34 regular-season matches. He started in 22 of Sporting Kansas City's matches this season.
Selected as the 10th overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft earlier this year, the 22-year-old from Virginia is the first player in Sporting Kansas City's 16-year history to receive the rookie honor. In his first MLS game, Sapong scored his first goal, and Sporting's first of the season, in only the second minute of play in the club's opening match vs. Chivas USA. He also scored the first-ever goal at Sporting's beautiful new Livestrong Sporting Park when the state-of-the-art soccer facility opened in June.
Sapong's value to the club came in many ways this season. In regular-season matches in which the first-year forward scored a goal, Sporting Kansas City had a perfect 5-0-0 record. In addition to scoring the club's first goal of the season, Sapong also ended up tallying Sporting's final one of the season when he scored the final goal in the Eastern Conference semifinals last week against the Colorado Rapids.
"I think everybody saw what he (Sapong) was like at the end of the season," head coach Peter Vermes said. "The kid played extremely consistent throughout the season...He did work hard, and he got it done."
Sapong was appreciative of the award and the recognition of his rookie accomplishments, but he was quick to credit his coaches and teammates for his success. "Receiving this honor is very humbling, but it would never have been a possibility without the help of so many people," Sapong said upon learning about the honor Tuesday at the club's practice facility. "Our goal at Sporting Kansas City is to do everything as a team."
Sapong played soccer collegiately at James Madison.
All first-year players in MLS without previous experience were eligible for the Rookie of the Year award. Perry Kitchen of DC United finished a distant second behind Sapong in the balloting.
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