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A Philadelphia Union blog hosted by Christopher A. Vito and Matthew De George

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Consistency is Pontius's secret to comeback success

Time to heal and consistency helped Chris Pontius launch
his Comeback Player of the Year season in 2016.
(Times File)
Chris Pontius’s first reaction two weeks ago at being named a finalist for the MLS Comeback Player of the Year Award struck at the fundamental conflict in the award: It’s nice to win, sure, but you’d rather avoid being in a position to.

That contradiction is fitting, since it informs how Pontius got to a point where the 2016 award was bestowed on him Wednesday. By not constantly considering the injuries that had dogged him for the better part of three years, Pontius finally moved past them to compile a career season.

“I tried to not think about it,” Pontius said Thursday by phone. “Late on in the season, maybe 27 games in, I was like, ‘holy cow, I haven’t missed a game yet.’ And it was just trying to (think), let’s keep this thing going, not thinking about it. I just was like, let’s keep this thing going and doing what I was doing, just week by week and focusing on the week ahead.”

For the first time since 2012, Pontius enjoyed a season not defined by injuries. He scored a career-high tying 12 goals to go with a career-best six assists. Including the U.S. Open Cup, he bagged 14 goals. The winger also set career marks in games played, starts and minutes.

In his first season with the Union, Pontius doubled his combined goal total from 2013-15.

And as Pontius explained Thursday, from out on the golf course with former D.C. United teammate and roommate Steve Birnbaum, one of the keys to a change in outcome was consistency of approach.
“Nothing’s different. I honestly think my body just settled down,” Pontius said. “It was two years post-surgery, and I think my body just settled down and the inflammation was down. We train a lot in Philly. I would say we spend more time on the field than any other team in the league, so my body had to put up with a lot this year and responded well.’

After an All-Star and Best XI campaign in 2012, hamstring surgery brought a premature end to his 2013 season and limited him to just three starts in 2014. While Philadelphia, which acquired Pontius in December, represented a fresh start, time and distance from his injuries were the most important factors in his turnaround.

That’s why the 29-year-old also credited his former club in helping achieve this accolade.

“It’s nice to be recognized for it,” Pontius said. “Like I said before, it’s an award I don’t plan on being up for ever again. But it’s nice, and it’s a credit to all the people around me who helped me stay healthy all year. And it goes back to my time in D.C. and all the people that put in the work; it’s just unfortunate that I wasn’t able to stay as healthy as I wanted to be and contribute as much as I would’ve liked.”

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