FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Those who have watched Chris Pontius perform for three-plus MLS seasons knew what was about to unfold Saturday in the 82nd minute of D.C. United’s tied match with the New England Revolution.
The Californian, who had been reduced to a reserve after a slow start to the season, collected the ball in stride on the left side of the penalty area. Defender Stephen McCarthy wasn’t going to let him proceed to the end line. Fine with Pontius. These are the scenarios that have helped define his prosperous career.
Three minutes after entering, Pontius utilized his favorite move by cutting back and curling a 12-yard shot to the far corner to provide a 2-1 victory before 10,389 at Gillette Stadium. The elegant strike capped a comeback from an early deficit and ended United’s five-game losing streak to the Revolution in regular season play (six overall).
It also halted a five-game winless streak in Foxborough and put D.C. (2-2-2) in grand position to win consecutive league matches for the first time in three years when it hosts expansion Montreal on Wednesday.
“We weren’t really sharp in any aspect of the game, but we hung in there and found a way to win,” Coach Ben Olsen said. “That’s what we’re looking for. Last year we probably find a way to lose that game. I am seeing some signs of this team figuring out ways to be winners.”
The triumph was most gratifying for Pontius, a midfielder whose return from a broken leg late last season hadn’t gone as well as hoped this spring. He labored as a starter in the first two matches, then relinquished his job to rookie Nick DeLeon.
“It’s been tough for me coming off the bench,” said Pontius, who had appeared as a substitute in the previous three matches. “Ideally, I want to start, but you’ve got to realize where you’re at sometimes with your body.
“I was rusty the first couple games, still finding my touch, getting fit. Being a sub forced me to work harder. That goal was the result of the hard work.”
Pontius entered as a forward, and on the pivotal sequence, DeLeon beat right back Kevin Alston to a header and nodded the ball into Pontius’s path at the top of the box.
“When he got in that position,” midfielder Danny Cruz said, “we had such a good feeling.”
The first goal of Pontius’s career, in his MLS debut in 2009 at Los Angeles, was almost identical: run at the defender, fake to the left, cut to the right and bend the ball into the far side-netting.
The day didn’t begin well for United. With Emiliano Dudar (hamstring strain) unavailable, New England (2-4-0) exploited United’s central defense in the sixth minute. Saer Sene crossed to Jose Moreno, who had found a pocket behind Brandon McDonald for an eight-yard volley past Joe Willis.
United answered in the 19th minute. On DeLeon’s corner kick, Dwayne De Rosario used a bicycle kick to put the ball on target. Before it reached goalie Matt Reis, Maicon Santos nodded in a five-yard header for his third goal of the season.
Both sides threatened the rest of the half: Robbie Russell’s header was cleared off the goal line by New England’s Lee Nguyen; a diving Willis touched Chris Tierney’s blazing free kick off the post; and Nguyen snapped an angled bid inches wide of the far post.
United’s back line was further depleted 15 minutes into a slower-paced second half when Dejan Jakovic left with an ankle injury. Russell, a right back, provided central coverage the rest of the match.
After adding Josh Wolff to the front line, Olsen turned to Pontius.
“I just felt we needed someone that could run, someone with real pace,” Olsen said. “As [the Revolution] got tired, their backs got a little leggy, and Chris took advantage of it.”
United notes: Midfielder Marcelo Saragosa returned to Brazil on Saturday after learning his father had died. Saragosa had missed the previous two matches to be with his father, who suffered a heart attack about two weeks ago. When the prognosis improved, he rejoined the club this past week.