Chris Pontius ready to face the pressure of the second half of the MLS season.
Chester, PA (Sports Network) -
Chris Pontius glanced to his left, then to his right last week at PPL Park, and grouped himself with every MLS All-Star when he said, "Every one of these guys puts pressure on themselves."
Pontius shouldered the biggest question marks. Added to the MLS All-Star team by manager Ben Olsen, also his club coach at D.C. United, there were concerns the fourth-year pro was out of his element as one of the best in MLS.
David Beckham, Landon Donovan, Thierry Henry ... Chris Pontius?
The pressure that has helped Pontius develop into the high scorer for United, nine goals before the All-Star break, also helped him prove he was a deserved All-Star.
"You'd be crazy if you didn't put pressure on yourself," said the 25-year-old Pontius, who responded with a goal and an assist in a 3-2 win over Chelsea to win MVP of the All-Star Game.
"I always want to do well. I think I'm my own biggest critic," Pontius added. "I've always been that way. And I always strive for better."
On the verge of a breakout season last year, Pontius suffered a season-ending injury in September. He had seven goals and five assists, but admitted it was something "you can't really plan for, you just have to take them in stride."
With the broken leg healed, Pontius made the transition into a new season for United quickly, and has worked "hard to maintain my health this year."
The injury, ultimately, just delayed the inevitable for Pontius: He was about to break out as one of the top young players in MLS.
Los Angeles Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, former coach of the U.S. national team, saw that talent when D.C. picked Pontius the first round of the 2009 draft.
"When he got drafted, I remember Bruce saying, 'I think this guy is going to be the best player in this draft.' When Bruce says that, you put some weight into it," Donovan said.
Olsen witnessed his development first-hand and did not waste the opportunity to show off Pontius to the rest of the United States and the world, actually, in the All-Star Game against the reigning European champions.
Talk about pressure.
Pontius, obviously, met the challenge head on in the All-Star Game. Now, he's ready to face the pressure of the second half of the MLS season.
"The second half is the toughest half of the season," Pontius said. "Everyone figures everything out about players - there are no secrets, so you've got to find new ways to create chances to score."
A year wiser and more experienced, Pontius is approaching 100 MLS appearances - the majority starts - and is better prepared for the task.
And after three poor seasons for United, "This team is the most talented team I've been on since I've been here," Pontius said. A change that is certainly a big benefit for Pontius.
United, which has led the Eastern Conference this year, has positioned itself to end a four-year playoff drought with its strong first half. But two losses before the All-Star break means "we do need a response," Pontius acknowledged when the club hosts the Columbus Crew on Saturday.
Do not be surprised if the response is from Pontius.
"As you get older, you become a smarter player," he said. "You kind of figure out the ins and outs of the league."
And like the best players in the sport, you thrive under the pressure.