Photo by ISIphotos.com
By THOMAS FLOYD
WASHINGTON — Chris Pontius doesn’t mince words regarding D.C. United’s struggles. He feels their weight. As an all-league attacker and the club’s longest-tenured player, 13 games without a win is downright torturous.
“Awful. Terrible,” Pontius said. “It tests you off the field as well, mentally.”
So after Pontius converted an 11th-minute penalty kick Saturday to score his first goal of 2013 and, more importantly, give United a 1-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes, the relief was palpable.
Things are far from satisfactory for Pontius and this 2-11-3 side, which hadn’t won since March 9. But after logging 90 quality minutes, returning to his 2012 form for perhaps the first time this year, Pontius finally got to relish an outcome — for himself and the unit.
“I felt like I actually got into a groove this game,” Pontius said. “It was one of the first games this year that I’ve gotten into a rhythm, where I felt like my old self again.”
While Pontius was quick to note the three points trumped any personal validation, he acknowledged “it’s a bit of pressure of my back now” ending a scoring drought that dated back to September and spanned 18 MLS matches played.
Pontius is at his best when he can go full steam ahead, with the ball at his feet and space at his disposal. Against the Earthquakes (4-7-6), he did so with regularity while creating numerous chances.
Although he’s had limited training sessions since suffering a concussion in U.S. Open Cup play June 12, Pontius still went the duration up top Saturday.
“We pushed him up a little bit higher so he could get around the goal and be a little bit more dangerous,” coach Ben Olsen said. “In the second half, he started to fatigue. As a whole, we were doing a lot of defensive work. But he’s a dangerous player. It was good to see glimpses of him coming back, and hopefully it’s something he can build off.”
To Pontius, who has seen a slew of United teammates suffer through the uncertainty of postconcussion symptoms, being able to return to the field after missing just a single league match was a relief.
“I’m glad I didn’t have any side effects of it,” Pontius said. “I just felt a little bit different that night, and then we took the right steps.”
Now, Pontius can turn his focus to recapturing the consistency of last season, when his 12-goal campaign included Best XI and All-Star game MVP honors — and also launched a U.S. national team discussion that has gone quiet in recent months.
“He looked sharp,” midfielder John Thorrington said. “He showed everybody what he can do. That’s what we expect of him. And he showed tonight his qualities. For him individually and us collectively, the idea is that this is a steppingstone.”