After reaching the MLS Playoffs in their inaugural MLS season, Nashville SC’s priority this off-season is to find a goalscorer, and they may have done just that in acquiring CJ Sapong. Sapong, who has 71 career goals to his name, can play as a number 9 or on the wing. Despite being 32, Nashville SC will hope that the former MLS Rookie of the year can still contribute in front of goal.
Where Sapong excels is his performance in duels, which is a measure of skill in a 1v1 situation, benchmarked against the MLS standard.
What stands out here is that despite being 6ft, Sapong rates very highly in winning aerial duels from dead ball situations (corners and free kicks). Watch for Nashville’s set-piece takers to utilize Sapong’s threat in the air.
Looking a little more in-depth, and using 2019 data for Sapong, compared against 2020 data for Nashville SC’s two other main central striking options, we can see that Sapong’s ability to successfully receive a ball in the box is well above that of Daniel Rios and Jhonder Cadiz.
It’s also clear to see that with both Cadiz and Sapong, Gary Smith’s side will have targets for their midfield to hit when they want to go a little more direct, and judging by the high ball retention ratings, the ball is going to stick when it goes into the final third. In terms of football aesthetics I personally hope Nashville don’t rely on a more direct style of play, but the option of Cadiz and/or Sapong will mean that Nashville have the ability to mix up their style of play when the situation demands it.
In his first season for the Chicago Fire, Sapong was involved much more centrally when you compare him to Cadiz’s stint playing in Ligue 1. The smaller blue squares in the graphics above denote through balls, whereas the white squares denote shots on goal (the larger the square the greater the quantity). It also appears that when playing for Chicago Fire CJ was involved in the build up play, but again, mostly in the central area of the pitch.
The vast majority of Sapong’s shots came from Zone 17, which is in and around the penalty area. While Cadiz still had shots on goal, his are more varied with different angles where as Sapong’s shots are much more condensed. Taking a closer look, it’s not surprising to note that Sapong’s xG (expected goals output) was at 0.2 and Cadiz’s was at 0.11.
It looks like the Chicago Fire chose to utilize Sapong’s presence centrally and restricting his attempts on goal to dangerous areas, while also taking advantage of his ability to hold the ball up. I’d be very surprised if Gary Smith and the Nashville coaching staff did anything different.
Data Source: Smarterscout.