Player of the Week

Player of the week: Chris Pontius

 Photo: Earl Gardner

2,086 minutes

That’s how long Philadelphia Union winger Chris Pontius went scoreless before Saturday’s match against Chicago Fire. Before the weekend tilt, his last goal came way back on Oct. 1, 2016, heading home a wonderful cross from Fabinho against New York Red Bulls.

Kickoff at Talen Energy Stadium marked Pontius’ 28th game since that goal. He made sure there wouldn’t be a 29th.

In the 10th minute, right back Keegan Rosenberry, mired in his own disappointing season, served a pinpoint cross into the box from the right flank. It was Pontius who clinically finished with a flicked header, ending what was a season-defining slump.

45 minutes

That’s how long Pontius went before scoring his second goal of 2017. In the 55th minute winger Fafà Picault fired a shot from the top of the box. Fire goalkeeper Matt Lampson made the routine save but allowed the rebound to roll back into danger. It was Pontius who reacted first, racing passed defenders-turned-spectators Brandon Vincent and Joao Meira. Pontius slammed home the finish and all but secured three points for the Union against one of MLS’ premier sides.

It’s obviously been a difficult season for the 30-year-old. In the early portion of the season, when the goals weren’t coming, he was at least providing a helping hand/foot/head. Pontius had six assists in Philadelphia’s first 11 matches. At one point, he sat at the top the the league leaderboard in the category.

Then, the assists dried up as well. His last two came back in the Union’s 2-0 victory over Houston Dynamo on May 17.

It’s no surprise the Union have struggled without their top offensive weapon from 2016. Pontius’ 12 goals led the team and he had six assists to support his finishing prowess. It was enough to secure MLS Comeback Player of the Year honors and call-ups to the United States National Team. Forward C.J. Sapong has tied the franchise record for goals in a season, but the lack of consistent secondary scoring has hindered the Union attack.

But should the Union have trusted Pontius to repeat last year’s performance?

This was the winger’s ninth season in MLS with the first seven coming with D.C. United. Only twice did Pontius score double digit goals. Since his first season in 2009, his totals are: 4, 2, 7, 12, 2, 1, 3, 12, and now 2. These numbers indicate the current season is closer to the norm than the latter.

After a lost season for both the Union and Pontius, there is no guarantee he will be back with the club in 2018. He is a free agent after the season and the club could look toward youth in the future.

But on Saturday, maybe for the final time, Pontius reminded the organization and the fans of the difference-maker he can be. Even during his ignominious streak, he was clearly a better player than the often-compared Andrew Wenger. His brace helped the Union secure their first victory since Aug 5.

It doesn’t do much for the 2017 Philadelphia Union season. It could be, however, a fond farewell by which to remember a class act.

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