WASHINGTON – Moments after Chris Pontius nodded home the game-winner on Saturday night – a hard-earned stoppage-time header that earned D.C. United their first victory over the LA Galaxy in six years – teammate Davy Arnaud was already giving Pontius grief.
“When we were coming back into the locker room,” Arnaud told MLSsoccer.com after the match, “I told him he could’ve been the leading scorer in the league by now!”
That much may be true. With both sides locked in a scoreless draw for nearly the entire evening, Pontius always seemed to be D.C.’s danger man, carving out chances on both sides of the halftime whistle and nearly finding the back of the net on multiple occasions. His 94th-minute winner seemed more expected than surprising, the logical conclusion in a game where Pontius found himself in so many dangerous spots.
“It was a long time coming,” Pontius said after the match. "Not only in this game, past games too. You just have to have a short-term memory with that stuff and keep yourself alive.”
Pontius’ performance on Saturday comes just a week after one of his more frustrating outings, a 2-0 loss at New York that left players and coaches alike bemoaning a lack of aggression and desire. Pontius himself hit a penalty kick over the bar late in the second half of that match, a frustrating miss which he later called “unacceptable.”
“I thought Chris in a lot of ways worked too hard last week,” United head coach Ben Olsen told MLSsoccer.com. “He was doing too much on the defensive side, not picking his spots and making sure to be a handful on the offensive side. Today he did that – constantly running, he looked like he had juice today. He was in good spots and was constantly threatening. I think as the season goes he’ll do better with those opportunities and get those numbers up.”
Pontius is a key piece for United, and his versatility has proven valuable to a D.C. side that has been struck with a litany of injuries. Though normally a wide man, injuries to Luis Silva and Eddie Johnson have shuffled Pontius up top, where he’s been paired with Jairo Arrieta.
The two combined well enough on Saturday evening, but the assist on Pontius’ late winner goes to Nick DeLeon, a midfielder who – like Pontius – is working to recapture some of his earlier form.
After nearly winning MLS Rookie of the Year honors in his debut campaign in 2012, DeLeon’s ascent has slowed a bit. Though the Louisville product has been a dependable piece in midfield, he’s become a bit less threatening in the final third, something Olsen is eager to change.
“We’ve been on him at length about not only doing the job he’s been doing in between the 18[-yard boxe]s,” said Olsen, "but now taking his game to the next level and producing points. We’ve put a lot of pressure on him to do that and I’m happy he’s responded.”
Both Pontius and DeLeon played a crucial role in United’s victory on Saturday night, and are crucial to United’s hopes in 2015. As for Pontius, most in a jovial United locker room after the match believe Saturday's strike was the first of many to come this year.
"He’s getting chances, which we need him to do, and the good thing is that when he doesn’t score, he still doesn’t shy away from getting himself in those good spots again,” said Arnaud. "I think that takes a lot of confidence in yourself and we’re confident in him. We know if he gets chances, he’ll score. I’m happy for him."