D.C. rookies earn respect early
WASHINGTON -- Chris Pontius is only a year and 36 days older than Rodney Wallace, but he manages to leverage that seniority to full effect when describing their interaction since becoming apartment mates in northwest Washington, D.C. at the beginning of the 2009 MLS season."Well you know, I'm kind of like Dad around the house," said Pontius after United's 1-1 draw with Chicago on Saturday night. "I've got to clean up after the little guy."He immediately burst into laughter as his fellow rookie, standing just two lockers over in D.C. United's RFK Stadium locker room, loudly and dismissively waved off the comparison.Given the duo's performance in their first two professional matches, few of their older teammates are in any position to be making similar age-related jokes about either of them. Pontius and Wallace have played the full 90 minutes in both of United's draws against the LA Galaxy and the Fire. Though both received their opportunities due to hamstring injuries to established starters Santino Quaranta and Fred, they've already combined with one another to create a goal in the season opener and have consistently brought quality and energy to the D.C. flanks.Chalk one up for head coach Tom Soehn and his staff, who were probably expecting the worst when their first-choice wingers pulled up lame in the final week of preseason."The guys we've used, everybody's been spot-on for what we'd expected. They're a deep team and at any point, anybody can play and make a difference," said the United boss. "I thought Rodney and Chris did a great job. Chris, having changed positions, he did a good job on the flank -- I don't think we used him as much as we could've. He was open quite a bit, and even Brandon [Barklage] came in and gave us energy. Our young kids are going to be assets this year."D.C. veteran leader Ben Olsen was clearly frustrated to let Chicago escape RFK with a point on Saturday night after his team gave away their halftime lead, but he made it a point to highlight the positive impact United's first-round SuperDraft picks were making for the Black-and-Red."It was a coin flip," said Olsen of the match's final half-hour. "We had some chances. Pontius, again, had a good game. Rodney had a very good game again. So there's two rookies who are doing their job, and consistently doing their job. That's rare, and nice to see. We haven't had young players at D.C. United in a while, that can come in and impact, and they're going to be tough to get off the field."Wallace was a 10-year-old youngster who had just moved from his native Costa Rica to Rockville, Md. in the Washington suburbs when Olsen won the 1998 MLS Rookie of the Year award for his exploits along the United right flank on one of the best squads in league history. So while Pontius basked in the glow of scoring against the Galaxy in front of dozens of family and friends in his southern California homecoming last week, Wallace's hometown debut had special meaning of its own."It was a great atmosphere at RFK," said the left-footed Wallace, a star in his two-year career at the nearby University of Maryland. "It's something that I couldn't even put to words, but it was fun. The crowd's great and everything -- I love it, having my friends and family come and watch."Drafted in succession with the sixth and seventh overall picks respectively, Wallace and Pontius have been linked ever since draft day in St. Louis and they've managed to craft an early chemistry both on and off the field, perhaps fostered in part by the time-consuming necessity of carpooling to practices and games through Washington's notorious crosstown traffic.But an ability to quickly grasp and implement their roles has certainly helped them contribute to the United cause thus far, even if it complicates Soehn's job when Quaranta and Fred return in the days ahead."As young players, we're trying to bring work rate onto the field," said Pontius. "Let the older players do their thing with the ball, but what we can control is our work rate. We're not the stars of the team or anything like that, we're just new to the team. We're just trying to be consistent players. So I think me and Rodney are always trying to just be in the right position at the right time, work for our teammates and listen to the older veterans."