By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 4, 2009
Rookies Rodney Wallace and Chris Pontius became members of D.C. United about four minutes apart this winter. Upon joining the club for training camp, they found an apartment to share in the Adams Morgan area. And with United's roster weakened by injuries, they have found themselves together in the lineup for every minute of the club's first two MLS matches.
Wallace, a Bullis School graduate who left Maryland after two seasons, has started on the left side of midfield. Pontius, from UC Santa Barbara, started at forward and scored in the season opener at Los Angeles before shifting to the right wing last weekend against Chicago.
Despite United's improving health, both are tentatively slated to start tonight against the Houston Dynamo at RFK Stadium.
"The thing I like the most about them is you can't really tell the highs and lows at all; they are very calm," United Coach Tom Soehn said yesterday. "It shows a lot about a person's professionalism and maturity. . . . You earn respect by your actions, and they've done that since the first day they joined us."
United has not been productive in the first round of the draft in recent years, either being without a pick or using it on a player who didn't pan out. Until this year, the previous first-round pick to start in the team's league opener was defender Ryan Nelsen in 2001.
But in January, with the sixth and seventh overall selections, club officials selected Wallace and then Pontius. Both made lasting impressions in preseason, and with Brazilian midfielder Fred sidelined with a hamstring injury and team captain Jaime Moreno not ready to start after offseason surgery, Soehn turned to the rookies against the Galaxy.
"Everyone kept telling me that, if the chance came along, I had to step into the role, and that's exactly what happened," said Pontius, a 14-goal scorer for the Gauchos last fall. "Rodney and I stepped into our roles and I think we've done well the first couple games."
Pontius scored the second goal in United's 2-2 tie at Los Angeles on March 22, a curling shot from the top of the penalty area. He had two quality opportunities against the Fire last Saturday.
Wallace, who helped Maryland win the NCAA championship in December, has displayed attacking initiative, speed and innate interaction with older teammates. Primarily a defender who had 10 goals in two seasons for the Terrapins, Wallace has had to balance offense and defense as an MLS midfielder.
"You have to pick your times to go forward, pick your times to go back," he said. "It feels good to play an important role so early in the season."
Both players have had to adjust to the demands of pro soccer after excelling in the more casual college environment.
"It's a lot different than college because you can tune out a little in college and still get away with it because there is a big gap between the best and worst players," Pontius said. "But here in MLS it's tough mentally and you can't slack off or else you will get punished."
United Notes: Goalkeeper Louis Crayton (preseason leg injury) said he is "150 percent" and seems certain to make his season debut. Josh Wicks, the starter the first two matches, is sidelined with a strained hip flexor. . . . Defender Greg Janicki (head injury), midfielder-defender Devon McTavish (head injury) and midfielders Fred and Santino Quaranta (hamstring) might be available. . . .
United's under-16 academy squad will play a Real Madrid youth team at 4:30 p.m. at RFK. A ticket to the MLS match allows access to the preliminary game. . . . Houston Coach Dominic Kinnear will serve a one-game suspension tonight for receiving a red card last week at San Jose.