The following article is from Matchday, D.C. United's new match program.
Decked out in a Dodgers baseball cap, denim shorts and flip-flops, D.C. United midfielder Chris Pontius is the personification of ‘California Cool.’ A native of the Golden State, the 24-year-old winger is a proud product of Southern California’s talent-rich youth soccer system. However, after a four-year career at UC-Santa Barbara that included a 2006 NCAA title, Pontius was ready for a change of scenery.
“I was only three hours away from my parents,” Pontius recalled of his time at UCSB. “People in California get stuck in a bubble at times and never want to leave. I knew I wanted to leave California and get away and experience something new.”
The Black-and-Red provided Pontius with that something new when the club selected him seventh overall in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft. The geographic shift paid immediate dividends as Pontius scored a brilliant goal in his MLS debut and went on to become a Rookie of the Year finalist. After a 2010 season cut short by a nagging hamstring injury, 2011 was quickly turning into a monster campaign for the Californian. Playing the best soccer of his professional career, the 24-year-old scored more goals (seven) by the end of summer than he had in his two previous MLS seasons combined. With United on the verge of a pivotal playoff push, Pontius was firing on all cylinders and ranked among the team leaders in minutes played.
Then came September 10.
Through the first hour of DC’s match against Chivas USA that day, there was no better player on the field than Pontius. Slicing through the Goats’ defense, Pontius set up all three of Charlie Davies’ goals while setting a career-high for assists (five) in the process. Then, in the 66th minute, the winger lunged for a loose ball and collided with Chivas USA defender David Junior Lopes. As Pontius lay writhing in pain, his teammates immediately signaled for United’s medical staff. Hours later X-rays confirmed the heartbreaking news–Pontius would miss the rest of the season with a broken right leg. As much physical pain as the injury undoubtedly caused, Pontius’ true agony came in watching his teammates limp to 1-6-2 record down the stretch. Without their midfield playmaker, United missed the playoffs for a fourth straight season.
“It hurt,” Pontius said during a recent interview at RFK Stadium, his usual smile wiped away at the thought of last year’s difficult stretch. “It was tough to watch. You don’t want to see your friends struggling through games. We want to win every game, so to see them in the locker room after, it was very difficult.”
While the injury brought an abrupt end to his 2011 campaign, Pontius has worked hard to ensure the effects won’t spill over in 2012. A tireless worker, Pontius attacked rehabilitation as he would a stranded defender on the counter-attack. If one form of rehab didn’t work, Pontius went full-bore at the next method suggested by his doctors. Despite the traumatic nature of the injury, Pontius says he never once feared for his career. That fearless approach - which manifests itself in his aggressive style of play - will serve Pontius well this season.
“You can’t live your life afraid of the mistakes or bad things that might happen,” noted DC’s longest-tenured player. “You have to have short term memory with that stuff. My job is to put defenders on their heels. I want to make the people who are marking me uncomfortable. That is just the way I’ve always played.”
His bold attitude - and success - in going forward has garnered attention at the highest circles of U.S. Soccer. Invited into Bob Bradley’s national camp at the beginning of 2010, Pontius earned his first taste of what is presumably next for the talented youngster. Just weeks before breaking his leg, it was Jurgen Klinsmann who called on Pontius ahead of a friendly against Costa Rica. Though he was yet to receive his first cap, an international breakthrough is well within Pontius’ reach.
“I want to suit up for the U.S. team. I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that,” Pontius said when asked about a future with the Stars-and-Stripes. “At the same time, I don’t think in terms of the national team. I think in terms of D.C. United. If I handle everything here, then that will come at a certain point.”
Those who know Pontius best agree.
“When he puts together a couple of consecutive years of progress and health, that’s when you are really going to see him take it to the next level,” United Head Coach Ben Olsen said recently. “He will be a pretty impressive player when he figures everything out. He’s going to be somebody special in this League.”