WASHINGTON – Since joining D.C. United in 2009, the best position for Chris Pontius has been a long-running debate.
In ’09, then-manager Tom Soehn often played Pontius up top, though sometimes put him on the flank. The 2010 season was an injury mess for Pontius, but in 2011, when the former University of California-Santa Barbara man had his best season to date, manager Ben Olsen preferred Pontius out wide.
Which made Pontius’ appearance as a forward against New England last Saturday a surprise. He replaced regular starting striker Maicon Santos, and went on to score the eventual winner, a curled shot in the 82nd minute that gave United a 2-1 win over the Revs.
WATCH: Pontius curls in the winner vs. NE
So, as United prepare to host Montreal on Wednesday night (7:30 pm ET, streamed on MLS LIVE), the old question resurfaces: Where should Pontius play?
“I’m comfortable playing up top,” Pontius, 24, told MLSsoccer.com. “I played up top in college, and I have played up top for a few games here in MLS as well. My natural instinct is to go to the goal.”
But it is Pontius’s versatility that makes him such a valuable commodity to United. He gives Olsen several options, whether he starts or not. Pontius’s ability to create goals and find space makes him useful as a wide midfielder, while his ability to finish and to make runs off of other players makes him dangerous in a more advanced position.
Before injury ended his 2011 season prematurely, Pontius was having his best season ever. He played mostly as a left midfielder, posting 7 goals and 5 assists through 25 games. The broken tibia not only ended his season, but derailed United’s efforts to make the postseason for the first time since 2007.
Pontius tried his best to be ready for the start of the 2012 season, but once the games started, it was clear that he was not quite back to his best.
“I was rusty the first couple of games,” Pontius admitted. “I’m still finding the touch and everything and getting fitness. Being a sub has forced me to work harder — to get back into it. So, I think that goal was just a result of the hard work.”
Wednesday’s game against Montreal comes just days after the encounter with New England, Olsen might look to Pontius as a source of fresh legs to keep his charges on target with a stretch of three games in nine days. For Pontius, his matchwinning goal provides enough of a reminder to Olsen as to just what he can bring to the table.
“It’s just one goal,” Pontius said, “but I’ll keep working hard, and hopefully more will come.”