Once upon a time, Chris Pontius was a Best XI player. He was called up for US men's national team camps. He was good off the ball -- the type of wide player who actually adds to possession with unselfish and mature movement -- and absolutely devastating on it, especially in the open field:
Light a candle for all those RBNY defenders Pontius turned to ghosts that day.
And if you're in Philadelphia light a candle that that version of Pontius still exists somewhere, since D.C. United shipped him up I-95 this afternoon. In the years following his Best XI season in 2012, Pontius has missed 12 games (2013), 28 games (2014) and 11 games (2015) due to a variety of leg injuries that have plagued him since college and, this year, seemed to have mostly robbed him of the type of burst and elusiveness he showed at the start of his career. Even in a best-case scenario, it's hard to imagine him playing more than 1500 minutes in 2016.
But it's conceivable he could bring a lot to the table when he's actually on the field. Philly seem to be undergoing something of a rebuild under new sporting director Earnie Stewart (the Dutch-American formerly in charge of AZ Alkmaar in Holland), and it's pretty easy to see how Pontius fits the mold of an attacking winger in a Dutch-style 4-3-3 -- it's certainly a more natural role for him than wide midfield in the 4-4-2, which is how he's primarily been played thus far in his MLS career. Wingers in the system Philly appear to be aiming for have to threaten goal, and Pontius has been one of the league's best at doing so from out wide (when healthy -- that's always the caveat).
A new, more attacking position with a lighter defensive work load makes sense, as does having him split time with promising teenager Eric Ayuk, somewhere in the winger rotation behind Tranquillo Barnetta and Sebastien Le Toux. If he's healthy enough to come in and make a difference, great; if he's not, well, he's not being counted upon as a franchise cornerstone, and Philly have the pieces to deal with his absence in a way that D.C. never really did.
United, for their part, went out and picked up a more durable if less spectacular version of Pontius in ex-Seattle attakcer Lamar Neagle (presumably using the same Allocation Money and Targeted Allocation Money that they acquired from Philly for Pontius's services, but, as always with MLS, the numbers are undisclosed). He'll see time up top and in midfield, just like Pontius, and unlike Pontius he'll probably be available for 30-odd games. Neagle won't create many highlights but he's a good, hard-working pro heading to a team built on exactly that kind of player.
So it turns out the first real deal of the Silly SeasonTM isn't really that silly. These moves make sense, even if they don't appreciably tilt the balance of power in either the Eastern or Western Conference.
Not unless Pontius once again becomes the player he was in 2012. It's a long shot, but if you're in Philly's position, why not buy the ticket and take the ride?