As the season is only five weeks away, and preseason is in full swing, it’s time to look at the roster and predict the starters for each position. Let’s start with the 2018 strikers!
There is no doubt that Sapong will start alone at striker on opening day, March 3rd vs New England. He is smack-dab in the middle of his prime and I expect him to produce a minimum of 10 goals and 5 assists in 2018. With the addition of David Accam, Sapong could easily eclipse his career high of 5 assists in a season. Coming off a career year of 16 goals which was tied for the seventh most goals in MLS, he wears down defenders while taking punishment himself from minute one to ninety. He is one of coach Jim Curtain’s favorites, at times to a fault. Only an injury or suspension will cause him to miss a start. As Union supporters have witnessed, ten scoreless matches in a row isn’t enough for him to take a night off, as long as his work-rate stays high.
Who fills in at striker if Sapong is injured or busy with U.S. National team commitments?
That is not an easy answer.
He mustered only 6 shots on goal in 22 appearances in 2017. The Union hit a few brutal scoring streaks last season when one or two goals would be cause for celebration. Even during those funks, Curtain never thought enough of Simpson to play him consistent minutes. He averaged just above 20 minutes per appearance. Not a glowing recommendation when your club was desperate for scoring.
Former Bethlehem Steel forward, is similar to Sapong in that he can mix it up a bit and wear down defenders. I just think at this point in his career, he is hungrier than Simpson and has more to prove. He hasn’t played for clubs as high-profiled as Simpson, but his recent play the past few years for an aggressive Jamaican National Team, has increased his confidence and he will show he belongs in MLS.
Fabian Herbers/David Accam
Here’s where it gets tricky. Just going on talent and ability, David Accam might be the best option to take Sapong’s place during his absence. That unfortunately would mean the Union technical staff would have to be creative, which they’ve demonstrated is not a strong suit. Accam at striker would mean putting Marcus Epps or Fabian Herbers on the right-wing. By my count, that’s two whole moves for one game. Not sure if we’re asking for miracles. Herbers has played the lone striker a few times during his Union career so don’t rule him out in an emergency situation.
Starting 2018 striker:
If we’re just talking strikers, I think the depth chart should be Sapong, then Burke, Simpson and Herbers. The key for this group is obviously Sapong. With almost 1,000 MLS post-season minutes under his belt, it will be key to have him in great form and not worn down at regular season’s end. Give the man a few night’s off for Union sake!
Mandatory credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports