Over the weekend, Chicago Fire forward CJ Sapong returned from an extended excused period away from the team.
The 31-year-old’s 11-minute shift as a second-half substitution in Saturday’s 2-2 draw against Columbus Crew SC marked his first appearance for head coach Raphael Wicky’s side since July 23, the Fire's final match at the MLS is Back Tournament.
Sapong missed the following five matches of the Fire’s return to regular season play to attend to a personal matter -- becoming a father to a baby girl. For the new dad, returning to the team from the absence meant adhering to the league’s health and safety protocols in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, part of which was waiting to receive medical clearance before rejoining his teammates fully.
Speaking after Wednesday afternoon's training session at SeatGeek Stadium, Sapong discussed maintaining his fitness while working on his own away the squad.
“(It was) very difficult,” he said. “Very unusual. I think we’re all at a point where we just want to do what we can to get on the field and get results for the team. I think this time around, I just put my head down and tried to mimic as much of the game-like situation that it was. Coming back to training with the guys, I felt like I was at a good enough fitness level to where I could get sharp and have fun with everybody again.”
The appearance against Columbus was just Sapong’s fourth of the 2020 season overall. He was additionally held out of the Fire’s opening two matches of the regular season prior to the league’s COVID-19 suspension while rehabbing an injury.
Having led the team with 13 goals scored last season, he’s hoping his first appearance at Soldier Field over the weekend will spark a return to attacking form.
“(It felt) really good,” he said. “It was my first game at Soldier Field. Obviously with the buildup to that, it was good to hit that milestone. I felt good movement-wise, energy-wise. Obviously I want to always do what I can to help the team, so that’s what I’m looking to build on for the next game."
The Fire return to play this Saturday with a visit to Orlando City SC. The 6:30 p.m. CT kickoff can be found on WGN, ESPN+ and is available for listening at 105.1 WOJO-HD2.