CHESTER, PA– The Philadelphia Union’s resurgence over the last month has been nothing short of remarkable, and most of that is credit to the tactical shifts made by Jim Curtin.
With Alejandro Bedoya dropped back to his natural No. 8 position and Roland Alberg and then Ilsinho at the No. 10, Curtin moved Chris Pontius to the right side of the 4-2-3-1 with Fafa Picault on the left. Since the change, Pontius has recorded five assists in five games, with two coming on Wednesday night in the 2-0 win over the Houston Dynamo.
“I certainly feel more comfortable out there,” Pontius said. “I can go inside and shoot on my left, still pose that option. I haven’t had many opportunities to do that yet, but tonight, there were options for me to serve the ball, and we had Fafa get on the end of one and Ilsinho get on the end of one. My role might be different every game, whether it’s assisting or defensively or getting on the score sheet, but kind of take what they give us right now.”
Although he seemed to be struggling in attack during the Union’s awful string of form in March and April, Pontius was doing all the dirty work required on the wing to keep him in the starting 11.
“Chris has always just been a solid, all-around soccer player,” Union boss Jim Curtin said. “He has a knack in front of the goal, whether it’s to get goals or assists. He has an engine that a lot of people label him as an injury-prone guy, which is a load of garbage. He’s a guy that takes care of his body better than any pro I’ve ever been around. He’s put together now a really long run of games for us. Had a slow start to the year statistically but still was doing the work.
“Now you’re starting to see balls bounce his ways. He made some really good decisive final passes tonight, also did against D.C. He’s confident now, a guy you can lead on and trust because he’s been through the battles. I keep thinking he’s like 345 years old, but he’s still under 30, so he’s still a young guy. He’s playing very well right now, and happy with how he’s performing. He’s been a leader for us in the early stages.”
Pontius was also tasked with silencing part of the Dynamo’s deadly attack, with Mauro Manotas and Romell Quioto on the wings and Erick “Cubo” Torres in the middle of the park. The job wasn’t easy for Pontius and Picault, but they got the job done in humid conditions.
“It starts defensively,” Pontius said. “I think we were hard done by a few results earlier in the year. Certainly we weren’t an 0-4-4 team. That was the biggest thing for me. I’ve been on a bad team. I know what a bad team feels like. This wasn’t a bad team, so I knew we weren’t an 0-4-4 team. We just kept plugging away. We didn’t change much. We showed up to work, rolled up our sleeves and got the job done. Credit to the guys for keeping their head on straight and getting the job done.”
The Union also quelled the Dynamo attack by taking them out of their comfort zone. Normally, the Dynamo like to score early and drop back in order to spring a counter or two for a second goal, but the visitors were incapable of that due to a few factors. The hosts scored the first goal in the 17th minute and the central midfield pairing of Haris Medunjanin and Bedoya squeezed Alex out of the game.
“The big thing for us was getting us getting the first goal tonight,” Pontius said.
“We kind of put them in a situation that they weren’t comfortable with, and that was crucial for us,” Pontius added. “The last 45 was we had to track back quite a bit, but that’s because we put so much into the first 35, 40. You saw some heavy legs from Saturday and that’s going to happen, but we gave ourselves that cushion being 2-0 up, so that was crucial for us.”
As if the past few weeks could get any better, Pontius recently got engaged and with his workmanlike demeanor on the field, he seems to be going nowhere but up this season. Having already tied a career high in assists for a single season, there’s a clear message coming from one of the silent leaders on the field.
“Don’t get complacent,” Pontius said. “You know the feeling of what a win does for this team, and we’ve just got to keep coming out and doing that every night. We’ve got another home game. We’ve been good at home the last few games, and we have another three points on the line.”