D.C. United may have lost Dwayne De Rosario for the rest of the year to injury, but they’re making sure that Chris Pontius isn’t going anywhere.
In the midst of a career year, Pontius has signed a long-term contract. The new deal, which will take effect in January, is guaranteed for the next three seasons with two option years, according to a source with knowledge of the terms. Pontius currently earns $155,000 per year on a contract that was set to expire at the end of next season.
The 25-year-old fourth-year midfielder/forward from UC Santa Barbara leads United with 10 goals along with two assists. Excelling both on the top line and as a wide midfielder, Pontius is coming off a broken leg suffered in September of last year in a game in which he’d racked up a hat trick of assists.
It’s his first full season healthy since his rookie year.
“You never really know [how a career will unfold],” Pontius said. “There’s all these twists and turns, especially with injuries. A lot of my main concern was just coming back from injury, and then I’d let everything else fall into place. This just felt right, and it was an easy decision for me.”
The deal works both for Pontius and D.C. United, giving the team more stability and increasing Pontius’ potential value in the transfer market.
“We’ve made a commitment to build this team with young players as our cornerstone,” United general manager Dave Kasper said. “This is another step in that direction with Chris. He’s at a great age, having a breakout season, and we only expect a lot more of that in the future.”
In mid-July, Pontius was selected to the 2012 MLS All-Star team for the first time and was a part of the team that defeated Chelsea FC, 3-2. He was named the game’s most valuable player after scoring the game-tying goal in the 73rd minute and assisting on Eddie Johnson’s game-winner.
“He’s grown a lot this year,” United coach Ben Olsen said. “On the field he’s been more consistent, but I think mentally he’s grown. He’s a little bit more believing in himself and how good he can be. But really what’s great about Chris is he gives you and offensive threat, but he does all the other things that a lot of people with offensive skills don’t give you.”
Pontius said he has plenty of unfinished business with D.C. United, most importantly getting the team to the playoffs for the first time in his career. The next step at a club level would be a move overseas, but he’s got to make his real breakthrough with the U.S. national team first to help facilitate that process. He was an alternate for the squad named for the Mexico friendly last month, and he seems assured of being watched closely ahead of two World Cup qualifiers next month, friendly matches in November and the winter U.S. camp.
“I think he’s in a good situation right now,” Olsen said. “I don’t necessarily think he’s completely ready to put all of his focus on a European move. He needs to get another year or two of good, solid all-star type performances with this club, and then evaluate things. That will get him to the national team. I have no doubt that he’s a guy that they will start to bring in. He’s on their radar. He’s maybe a little bit behind and he’s not part of their mix right now, but he’s right on the edge of that. It’s a good thing that this club is committed to him.”
“Chris is one of the top players in MLS and on the U.S. soccer scene,” said Dan Segal, Pontius’ agent. “He has the talent to play in Europe, and that may happen at some point. However, he is doing great at D.C. United, he loves the club, and they have taken care of him with a very nice new contract.“
Selected with the seventh pick in the 2009 MLS draft, Pontius played in 28 MLS matches (23 starts) during his first season, scoring four goals and assisting on three to become a rookie of year finalist. He’s played in 24 games (19 starts) this season, and in four years, he has played in 94 games (80 starts), collecting 23 goals and 11 assists. But for all his success, his best position still is up for debate.
“If he’s a wide midfielder,” Olsen said, “he’ll continue to do what he does now but more polished and hopefully continue with getting assists and goals and combining better and just being a guy that can’t be stopped. If you put him up top, the ceiling has a potential to get very high.”
Pontius played down the pressure of having to make a greater impact that he’s expected to make on the field Saturday against New England and going forward in the wake of De Rosario’s absence. He maintains his approach has never changed.
“I’m my own biggest critic,” Pontius said. “When I go home and look at film, people might say, ‘You played alright tonight,’ and I look at it and see all my mistakes. That’s just the way I am so I always put pressure on myself. There’s been pressure on me even when I didn’t have a big contract or anything like that, even when DeRo was playing. There’s always been pressure. In a leadership role, I kind of take on more of that now.”