Philadelphia Union eyeing big season from healthy, confident Chris Pontius

CHESTER, Pa. – Chris Pontius still remembers it vividly.

Once, while still on D.C. United and playing against Union on the road, he was politely called over by a father who said that his son really wanted to meet him.

Pontius obliged, only to find out when he arrived that the father simply wanted to say, “Actually, you suck.”

“I laughed pretty hard,” Pontius said. “That was the best I’ve ever gotten.”

The heckles may have been fun. The cheers are going to be even better.

And fresh off a two-goal performance in Philadelphia's 2-1 win at Columbus Crew SC last Saturday, the new Union midfielder should expect a lot of love in the club’s home opener vs. New England on Sunday at Talen Energy Stadium (2:30 pm ET; MLS LIVE).

“The funny thing is any time I’ve met any of the fans they’ve told me it’s going to be weird not yelling at me and saying some things they probably shouldn’t have,” Pontius said. “So it will be good to have them behind me. I’m looking forward to it. Home openers are always fun – and a lot more fun if you can get a 'W.'”

The Union are returning home with plenty of good vibes thanks in large to Pontius, whose two goals carried Philadelphia to their surprising road win at Columbus this past weekend.

It was Pontius’ first brace since June 24, 2012 – but it wasn’t necessarily surprising to Union head coach Jim Curtin, who believes the MLS veteran can be a star in this league when healthy.

“Chris is a great player,” Curtin said. “For him to have a good start to the season was important. I think he earned his goals. He worked hard to put the team on his back a little bit. He’s a guy I’m high on. I know he’s capable of a double-digit goal season. He’s done it before. He’s been a Best XI in our league, and hopefully this spurs him on to a season like that.”

Of course, the biggest problem during his up-and-down seven-year tenure in D.C. was always his health. Pontius had several seasons derailed due to injuries, particularly to his hamstring.

But Curtin said the team’s new sports performance department has an individual plan that “caters to Chris’ needs” and focuses on injury prevention. And Pontius, who knows his body well, can be honest with the coaches if he ever needs time off.

But so far through the preseason and the start of the regular season, the 28-year-old midfielder has yet to miss any training sessions. Even better, he hasn’t even thought about his hamstring.

“That’s been the nice thing,” he said. “It was the thing I felt loomed over at me in D.C. at times. With games and training, I felt like I would go in and instead of the optimistic approach, it would be more pessimistic, just hoping I didn’t get hurt. And you can’t play that way. You’re never going to reach your potential if you play that way.”

It remains to be seen, of course, if Pontius can reach his full potential in Philly. But with two goals to his name already, he’s certainly off to a good start heading into what he knows will be a fun home opener.

“When you look at when players are playing their best, it’s when they’re confident,” he said. “And goals always help with that.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.