Jim Curtin remains convinced that C.J. Sapong will snap out of what’s now an 11-game goal drought, but he can’t hide from the fact that it’s a problem.
“C.J. obviously wants to produce, he wants to score goals, you know that very well, and we do know that he’s capable of scoring goals,” Curtin said Tuesday morning before the Union flew to Chicago for Wednesday’s game against the Fire (8:30 p.m., PHL17). “We have half the season to get him going again, and that’s going to be a big key for us.”
Curtin believes Sapong’s problems are “fixable,” and in the short term.
“You still say last year he was our all-time leading scorer [in a single season, with 16 goals], so he is capable,” Curtin said.
For as much as Curtin wants Sapong to play out of his drought, Curtin’s hand is about to be forced. The Atlanta game began a stretch of six games in 19 days for the Union. Curtin will have to rotate his lineup, and that means Cory Burke will play.
“Cory is going to get opportunities in the coming weeks for sure,” Curtin said. “I think he’s maximized his minutes, and he’ll be rewarded.”
Of course, the Union could also buy a new striker. Many clubs in MLS would do that, and a fair number will this summer. In fact, some already have, led by D.C. United’s acquisition of Wayne Rooney.
But between the team’s tradition of frugality and sporting director Earnie Stewart’s departure at the end of the month, Curtin signaled that the die is already cast.
Asked whether he expects the current roster to be what he has for the rest of the year, Curtin said: “I’m comfortable with that. We’ve been given resources at the beginning of the year. We’re happy with those resources.”
That’s a different tune than the one Curtin offered last year, when he said publicly on a few occasions that his team needed better players. In fairness, that team didn’t have a playmaker of Borek Dockal’s quality. (It also didn’t have a winger of David Accam’s pedigree, and it’s still shocking that he’s been a complete bust here.)
“If you’re asking me if there are things we could add to the group that could improve the team? Absolutely. Every coach is going to say that,” Curtin said. “But every coach also has to have a belief in the group that they have. …. I think you’re seeing a team that has improved over last year’s team. So has every other team in the league, though, and that’s the reality of things.”
Union at Chicago Fire
Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. at Toyota Park, Bridgeview. Ill.
Union’s record: 6-9-3, 21 points (8th in the East); 1-6-1 on the road
Chicago’s record: 6-8-5, 23 points (7th in the East); 4-4-2 at home
Series history: Union 8 wins, Fire 8 wins, 5 ties
At Chicago: Union 2 wins, Fire 6 wins, 3 ties
Chicago players to watch
F Nemanja Nikolic: Though the Fire are struggling, Nikolic continues to be worth every cent of his $1.9 million salary, with eight goals so far this year. Whether the Union like it or not, Nikolic is a constant reminder of what they don’t have.
M Aleksandar Katai: While Nikolic and Bastian Schweinsteiger draw the big headlines, Katai has quietly become the team’s most effective creator. He has eight goals and three assists, and isn’t afraid to shoot from distance.
F Alan Gordon: If the game is tied late, you can never bet against this veteran striker. He has a long history of dramatic goals in the final minutes of games.