WASHINGTON – D.C. United haven’t had trouble finding the back of the net this season, with goals aplenty coming from the likes of Maicon Santos, Hamdi Salihi and Dwayne De Rosario. The offense, by any measure, has been humming.
But the rich are about to get richer, as United are set for the return of Chris Pontius following a month-long layoff with a glut injury. The former UC Santa Barbara star played 62 minutes in a Reserve League game against Toronto FC this past Saturday, and the forward scored a goal to mark his return in the 4-3 win.
“I’m feeling good, I’m feeling healthy,” Pontius told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. “I got a few minutes and some fitness from the reserve match. For a soccer player, there is nothing like playing an actual game and getting some fitness, so it was nice to get that under my belt.”
Pontius hasn’t featured for United since coming off injured during the 1-0 loss at Houston on May 12. The Black and Red racked up three wins in three games in his absence.
But as the team faltered last weekend against the Philadelphia Union in the Round of 16 in the US Open Cup, the good vibe around United’s camp quickly dissipated, as manager Ben Olsen went off in a postgame tirade in which he lambasted the team for believing they were better than they actually are.
Pontius, who was held out of the game as he recovered from his injury, didn’t quite see it that way, but believes that the loss to Philadelphia in the Open Cup is more than enough motivation for the team to get back to their winning ways on Saturday weekend in a rematch with the Union at PPL Park (7 pm ET; Galavision).
“I just don’t think we played well that game,” Pontius, who has five goals and an assist on the season, explained. “You have games like that where you don’t play well. I think the only thing now is that we have to put the Open Cup out of our mind, and use that as motivation. We definitely use [the loss] as motivation. They came to D.C. and they took it to us.”
Heading into the weekend, United sit atop the Eastern Conference standings after 15 games played. As unfamiliar as the position is to Pontius and his teammates – D.C. haven't made the MLS Cup Playoffs since 2007 – the focus after the Open Cup disappointment has turned not only toward making a postseason return, but continuing to set the standard that other MLS teams aim to match this campaign.
“Everyone knows where we are in the standings,” Pontius said. “We want to stay at the top – we don’t just want to make the playoffs, we want to be one of the top teams. The guys are ready for it, and it’s just about going onto the field and putting in the work now.”
With Dwayne De Rosario set to return to United after playing for Canada a World Cup qualifier against Honduras on Tuesday night, Pontius might have an opportunity to return to action against Philadelphia. His focus now remains on training, and seeing how the selection from Olsen unfolds as the week goes along.
“I’ll continue on working in practice this week, and we’ll see what happens with the lineup this weekend,” he offered.