Finally fit, Pontius pushing United revival

WASHINGTON — A laundry list of things didn’t go D.C. United’s way during a tough 2010 season.

So far this year, the improvement has been vast, as first-year coach Ben Olsen has a young team playing hard and fighting for 90 minutes, in particular during the club’s current five-game unbeaten streak over the last month.

One of the major factors this year to improvement has been the health of third-year midfielder Chris Pontius. The UC Santa Barbara product has recovered from a serious hamstring issue that plagued him all last year and is playing some of the best soccer of his young professional career.

“I don’t think any of us are really surprised with the way Chris is playing,” Olsen said. “We saw it in his first year, some glimpses of what he’s been doing now.”

Through 12 games, he leads the team in minutes played, and is the only player to start every game. He’s chipped in four goals and three assists as well, has provided a consistent spark from the left wing as DC’s retooled attack continues to improve.

While his contribution has been significant, Pontius isn’t satisfied with what he’s achieved this year and knows things have to be better in some areas — specifically citing an early scoring chance last Friday in LA, when he failed to pull the trigger in a dangerous position in the penalty area.

“There’s obviously a lot of things I need to improve on still — should have scored in the LA game, I think everyone can say that in the first three minutes,” Pontius said.

After his strong rookie season in 2009 that saw Pontius finish as a finalist for Rookie of the Year, he picked up a hamstring injury in the 2010 January camp with the US national team.

It was a problem that hampered him throughout the year, eventually requiring surgery. He played through the pain until August, but never made the same kind of impact he did as a rookie.

“Last year you can kind of wash that away because he was injured,” Olsen said. “He was never fast, he couldn’t get to top speed, and then he was out after the surgery for quite a while.”

Now, Pontius says he feels great and is focusing on improving himself on the field. Having him fit has been a huge asset for Olsen — who still wants his rising start to tick the back of the net at a higher rate.

“It’s been great to have a healthy Chris Pontius, he puts guys on their heels, he’s been aggressive,” Olsen said. “Still would like to see him to score off the run of play, get more points for us, but overall he’s been very good.”

Travis Clark covers D.C. United, College and Youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @travismclark