By FRANCO PANIZO
PHILADELPHIA – The MLS All-Star game provides players from all across the league the rare opportunity to spend a few days and enjoy some banter with the others selected who would normally be considered their opposition.
For first-time All-Star selections Dan Kennedy and Chris Pontius, this year's event provides them more than that.
The two California-born players have been united during this week's preparations for the All-Star game against Chelsea on Wednesday at PPL Park, marking the first time in their careers that they will play on the same team despite them growing up in nearby neighborhoods.
"Our parents probably live like six blocks from one another in Yorba Linda, which a pretty small town in Orange County as it is," Kennedy told SBI. "I'm a bit older than him but he ended up going to (University of California) Santa Barbara, that's where I played as well. We just kind of have a long history together even though we never played together. When I heard that I had made and I found out that he had made it, it's pretty cool, it's pretty special for us to do this together."
Making it even more special for them both is the fact that the two have worked together previously. Kennedy hosted youth camps while at UCSB and Pontius worked under him as a coach counselor, so their familiarity with one another goes a long way back.
That is why Pontius and Kennedy expressed happiness to see each other at this year's All-Star game following the team's first training session on a hot Monday morning, where both were also full of praise for the strong season the other is enjoying.
"He’s been stellar and keeps Chivas USA in so many games," Pontius said of Kennedy. "As a friend of his I like seeing him do well and having him here at the All-Star game with me is pretty special.”
Kennedy has indeed been one of the brightest spots for a second consecutive season for Chivas USA and his steady performances are one of the main reasons the Goats are currently not lower than sixth place in the Western Conference. He has recorded six cleansheets in 19 starts and his 61 saves thus far are the fifth-highest in the league.
The 30-year-old netminder attributes his success this year to feeling more at ease as a starting goalkeeper. Last year marked the first season in his professional career where he was a permanent starter, and the experience gained from that is proving fruitful.
"Goalkeeping is very much a comfort and getting games and settling in is really important," said Kennedy. "Last year, I really settled in and now it's not just about earning the job, but it's about doing more. I'm trying to do more, trying to be more of a leader on the field and organize the defense a little bit better. I think all those things are helping in my development of the game."
For Pontius, this season has seen him recover from the broken leg he suffered last year in emphatic style. Pontius has looked as lethal an offensive weapon as he showed he could be while playing arguably his best soccer in 2011.
Pontius has nine goals and one assist in his 17 appearances this year, and the former statistic is a team-high for D.C. United. The 25-year-old continues to round out his game and is fulfilling the expectations some had of him when he arrived to MLS.
"Guys around the league have always liked Chris a lot," Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Landon Donovan said. "When he got drafted, I remember (Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena) saying 'I think this guy's going to be the best player in this draft.' When Bruce says that, it puts some weight into it, so it's good that he's here now."