Chris Pontius’ move to Philadelphia is going so well that he’s fallen in love with the city’s food without even trying a cheesesteak.
“That’ll be a postgame celebration thing,” Pontius said. “Probably won’t be a Friday night before a game thing. The food’s been great here. I’m looking forward to having a cheesesteak.”
Things are looking up for the 28-year-old midfielder, who was traded from DC United to Philadelphia on Dec. 7, the first big move in Earnie Stewart’s tenure as Union boss.
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When the Union open up their MLS slate come Sunday in Texas against FC Dallas, it’ll be the first time Pontius has pulled on a jersey that didn’t say DC United since 2008 when he graduated from UC Santa Barbara. On the way, he made 185 appearances for the Black-and-Red, scored 35 goals, was an MLS Best XI member and won the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
So, yeah, things are going to be different.
“I was looking for a breath of fresh air, and that’s exactly what I’ve gotten,” Pontius said. “Very professional feel, both on and off the field. It’s a different formation than DC, so learning kind of a different role I guess you could say, figuring out which way that suits the team for me to play.
“I’ve gotta keep doing some of the stuff that made me successful in my career but also how can I help my teammates around me within this new system. It’s been fun here.”
Which isn’t to say leaving DC was an easy call. Pontius had battled injuries before and after his 31-game, 12-goal season in 2012, but the California man had grown comfortable in Washington. And comfort wasn’t something that was suiting him.
“When you’re making the decision whether to re-sign or to leave, to basically uproot what I had known for seven years, it’s very difficult,” he said. “Everyone around DC had treated me well. For me personally, I felt it was time to go. It had nothing to do with the fans. You fall into a comfort zone when you’re in a place for so long. You know what every day is going to be like. Some people may like that and it can be beneficial, but for me at this point in my career I needed something to push me a bit more. That’s when I realized it was time to go.”
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And, so, a fresh start. While he has his first DC jersey from framed in his home, Pontius distributed his DC gear to friends, family and Goodwill (meaning there’s a legit chance some folks in the Beltway region may’ve picked up a Chris Pontius shirt worn by Chris Pontius).
Amongst DC midfielders who played more than a quarter of the team’s games last season, Pontius was tops in total performance score per 90 minutes from advanced stats site Squawka. He’s high-motor player with a strong sense for space and a good pair of finishing boots.
Pontius loves what’s being asked of him in Philadelphia under coach Jim Curtin: make things happen while helping to rebuild a culture that’s only seen playoff soccer once in six seasons.
“They brought me in to be one of the leaders of the team,” Pontius said. “They’ve missed the playoffs quite a few years now and that’s the goal for this squad. I thought it would take longer for me to settle in for a team, and I felt fairly settled in right away with these guys. I’m getting a little bit louder every day in practice.
“We’re here to win and get into the playoffs. There’s no doubt about that. Squad knows that.”
One of the players on that squad is one who may score the goal or deliver the assist that helps Pontius find that first victory cheesesteak, and that’s former Shakhtar Donetsk wizard Ilsinho, who is drawing rave reviews around the Union.
“He’s a pretty special player on the dribble, very very talented,” Pontius said. “His ability to beat people — I’ve seen a couple times in preseason he’s beaten a couple people with one movee. It forces defense on their heels a bit more, it creates space and time for the players around him. It’s nice to play with a player like that who can create and see things a little bit differently.”
Pontius is seeing things a bit differently, too, albeit in a different fashion. It’s a two-hour drive up the I-95 to get from Washington to Philadelphia, and Pontius has a heck of a change in view.