Watch That Guy. He's Going Places.

Over on the Goffblog, the man himself asks...
On the subject of Pontius, where do you think he should play tomorrow? Right flank? Forward? Playmaker? Or deep central midfield like he did Wednesday?

A valid question. While he has put in reasonable shifts in the playmaking attacking mid role and in the center of midfield, his strongest positions seem to be right mid and forward, with the later as his likely long-term role. But all of this "where do you play him?" stuff has me thinking back a couple of years to a Saturday night at RFK. During the warmups, I was pointing out a guy to my brother that I thought he should keep an eye on during the game. A guy that had been turning my head regularly in his brief time in MLS...

Back to the present, and over on the Goffblog, first commenter robb10 chimes in with...
Does anyone else worry that by playing Pontius all over that DC United will slow down his progress this year?

Nope. If anything, the ability to play multiple positions both proves the quality of his "soccer brain" and guarantees that he'll see a lot of playing time because Tommy will be able to plug him in more holes. Sort of how that guy I was pointing out to my brother was plugged into multiple holes during his time in MLS: right back, d-mid, attacking mid, winger, forward. He too often prompted the question: "Where's his best position?" He too was a first round draft pick, going 8th overall to Pontius' 7th. He too regularly found the net in his rookie season, scoring 7 in 24 appearances, exactly the pace that Pontius (3 from 10) is on. Even today, plying his trade in arguably the best league in the world, he manages to log minutes in both wide midfield spots and up top.

And it doesn't seem to have slowed his progress too much.

Who is this masked man I speak of? Why, Clint Dempsey, of course. Pontius may not have the trickery and flair that Dempsey brings to the table, but he's never been afraid to take on defenders and may (assuming he continues to keep the ball down) become a more pure finisher in time. But both have that knack, while not being blessed with extraordinary size, strength, or speed, of having the intuitive sense and the determination to get to the right place at the right time and knowing what to do with the ball once there. Both stepped into MLS already exuding the understanding and confidence that usually comes only with years of experience. That's the type of thing that has the punditry pondering possible national team call ups. That's the type of thing that makes a fan nudge his brother during warmups, point out a kid, and say "Watch that guy. He's going places."


  1. I utterly disagree with you. It may be that Pontius is capable of playing multiple positions, but he's still a rookie, and while it's nice to take advantage of immediate opportunities, the right thing to do is let him get comfortable in his role. He may have a great soccer brain, but at some level he's still adjusting to the pros (and the pros are building a book on him). Make his job simple, and bring him along.

  2. Here's the differenece between Dempsey and Pontius.

    Dempsey has abnormal technical ability, for an American, and is the most unpredictable attacker I've ever seen from an MLS product. That's why he has succeeded with Fulham, because defenders aren't quite sure.

    Pontius has another feature. If he has a chance to score, or assist, it usually bears fruit.

    Both possess grit, and a nose for goal, but Dempsey is still more valuable. Who knows, though Pontius is young.

    As for being able to play multiple positions... two is good. After that, utility player becomes your role, and they Always sit the bench eventually. McTavish, anyone?

    However, ability to finish should protect him... until he goes to europe.

  3. @DAnd I utterly disagree with you (what fun we have disagreeing ;-)! Well, maybe not utterly. Two points for consideration...

    (1) Why does a player need to be limited to just one role? What if the role happens to be "soccer player"? Maybe I'm just overly romantic for the "total football" approach, but a player that can shift between roles on the pitch seems much more valuable than one who can only exist in a static position. Versatility is a characteristic like any other, to be exploited by player and coach alike.

    (2) I don't know how you can make a blanket statement like "the right thing to do is let him get comfortable in his role." Does one size fit all when it comes to player development? Some players thrive on being thrown in the fire. Others need to be coddled and brought along slowly. Though this coaching staff doesn't have a remarkable record of developing young talent, I think they're in a better position to judge what's best for Pontius as a professional. Also, (half-jokingly) what if his "role" happens to be utility midfielder/forward? He is listed as M/F on United's website.

    Go ahead, savage me. I can take it ;-).

    @AnonI admitted the gap between their levels of technical ability in the post. The similarity, in my mind, is the absolute confidence and understanding that both seemed to possess as young players taking their first steps in the professional game.

    As for multiple-position players, you can see some of my thinking above. I think that often players gain the "utility" tag not by virtue of their versatility, but by virtue of their inability to be really, really good at one position. They're often decent players at multiple spots, but not excellent at any. McTavish is an excellent example. Phil Neville would be another.

    @bothEventually, I think Pontius has the tools to be a pretty good withdrawn forward. Given that withdrawn forwards are often given a bit of license to roam (dropping into midfield, pulling wide), is it necessarily a bad thing that Pontius is picking up experience in midfield as well as up top?

  4. A DCU blogger's debate and you didn't invite me?! I'm so offended. Nice post though FB, always good to stir up a nice healthy disagreement.

    At this point in the season, and at this point in his young career, I love what they're doing with Chris Pontius. I'm sure that later in the year, Pontius will settle into a regular role. But we're not 100% sure what that role is yet, so we're trying him out in different spots. Which is fine when you're only a quarter of the way into the season, but not so fine if they're still doing this during the playoff stretch.

    Secondly, I don't see how this movement can do anything but HELP his development. A guy who has refined his attacking skills at the withdrawn forward position, and has also refined his defensive and distribution skills at a CDM position, will be incredibly valuable. Those dual abilities will benefit him at any position.

    How often last year did we complain that we don't have wingers who can play both sides of the ball? Quaranta, Fred, and Khumalo are all players with good offensive skills, but struggle sometimes when defending. I think eventually Chris Pontius's regular position on this team is going to be right wing, but in the mean time, I'm fine with him honing his skills in other spots so he can be the best right wing possible when the team is ready for him to step into that position full time.

  5. Come on in, Shatz. The more the merrier ;-).

    I'm not so certain about Pontius' defensive qualities. He seems to read the game well and has the energy to cover a lot of ground, which puts him in decent defensive positions, but his tackling and marking aren't anything special. But that's not a big deal because he is, first and foremost, an attacker.

    I'm not sure that I'd want him to be the long-term solution at right mid in a 352 as it seems to saddle him with too much defensive responsibility, thus negating his attacking gifts. But in a 442 with a fullback behind him..?

    Having tactical options is a benefit. Versatile players increase tactical options.

  6. After reading that Goff blog and comments I had exactly the same thought about Deuce and Pontius. Eerily, I even had a similar recollection of pointing out Dempsey to my brother.

    From a development standpoint I think that defensive mid might be the best position Pontius can play. While he has looked good as a more attacking player, his biggest weaknesses seem to be losing the ball a little too softly in challenges and not maintaining possession. At DMC he has to play a little quicker, work out of tight spaces and will learn how much it sucks when a forward losses possession early, forcing the midfielders to bust there butts to get back on defense.

    Pontius played a lot of forward in his college career and seems comfortable on the wing as well. Wallace is a better example of a tactically raw player that needs time and familiarity at his position, whether that is defender or midfielder on the left side.

  7. Hi, Daniel. Eerie coincidences, eh? And I think your noting of Wallace's rawness highlights why I think Pontius stands out so much as a rookie.

    Now let me pick a bone with you since I seem to be so disagreeable in my own comments. Help, I'm turning into a curmudgeon ;-)!

    Putting Pontius in a holding midfield role blunts what makes him a special player--his ability to get into dangerous attacking positions and exploit an increasingly deft finishing touch. Doing it to teach him an object lesson about the frustrations of losing possession seems like something I would try with a youth player, not a professional, no matter how young or inexperienced.