D.C. United take heart from long-awaited Chris Pontius return in acrid defeat to New York Red Bulls

HARRISON, N.J. – For fans of D.C. United, Wednesday evening’s 1-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls was a frustrating one. Many felt hard done by a controversial 32nd-minute red card issued to Fabián Espíndola, leaving some with the sense that United deserved at least a point out of the encounter.

But there were bright spots as well.

D.C. still carved out their share of chances, even down a man. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid put in a show-stopping performance, preserving the draw until Lloyd Sam stole that show with a stoppage-time winner. Finally, Chris Pontius – the crafty midfielder who had not played in a competitive game in nearly a year – took the pitch late in the second half. 

Pontius only saw 10 minutes of action but wasted no time getting into the swing of things. The 2012 MLS Best XI honoree went in on several challenges and seemed eager to put his stamp on the match, even in such a limited time frame.

“It obviously felt good to be back out on the field,” Pontius told MLSsoccer.com after the match, “There’s nothing I can do in practice and training to get myself ready for a game where you come in and your team’s down. It felt good, I felt like I caught up to the pace of the game pretty well. You’d like to come into a game where you have a bit more possession, but that’s just not going to happen when you’re a man down.”

Though fully recovered from a pair of surgeries to repair his left hamstring and the sciatic nerve in that same leg, Pontius lacks match fitness and, for the time being, will likely provide cover on the wings, where United are presently missing the services of Chris Rolfe (broken arm) or up top, where they’ve become a bit thin – Conor Doyle is out for the season with a knee injury, and Eddie Johnson remains day-to-day with post-concussion symptoms.

"It was great for Chris and good for our team and organization to have him back out there,” said head coach Ben Olsen after the game. "I thought he did fine – you could tell right away that he was a piece that we’ve missed, and hopefully we’ll get him back into the fold more often."