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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Pontius gets warm welcome from hometown fans in Philly

His third cap in four Gold Cup games was extra special for Chris Pontius,
right, in Philadelphia Wednesday. (AP)
PHILADELPHIA >> The roar was pronounced as Chris Pontius readied on the sidelines.

The other two U.S. subs Wednesday night in a 2-0 win over El Salvador in the Gold Cup quarterfinals at Lincoln Financial Field were greeted warmly, for sure. But the passion behind the reception for the Philadelphia Union midfielder was something he noticed right away.

“It was great,” Pontius said. “I had some chants going up for me, too, which was nice as well. It was special for me.”

Wednesday’s appearance was a short cameo, Pontius entering in the 87th minute for Darlington Nagbe, the U.S. well on its way to salting away the win and a berth in the semis. But as Pontius has cemented a spot in the rotation under manager Bruce Arena, this appearance brought something special.

Not that Pontius, who scored 12 goals for the Union last year and is second on the team this season with six assists despite still being in search of his first goal, needed reinforcement that he’s arrived in Philly. He played at an all-star caliber level last year, his first with the Union after seven with D.C. United, the last several blighted by recurrent leg injuries. It helped him return to the U.S. fold after six years in the wilderness.

Wednesday’s rousing welcome reinforced the point.

“That was nice,” he said. “It was definitely special for me. Just to have it here in Philly, it was a great. … I think I settled in pretty well last year. I think you saw that in my play last year. I always said it was credit to the staff and credit to the guys around me because they made me feel at home right away and it was my first time in a professional environment moving teams, so it was tough for me. Philly has welcomed me with open arms.”

Pontius has also settled into a role under Arena. He’s made five appearances this year, two in January friendlies after the offseason camp and now three in four Gold Cup games. He might not yet be at first-choice status for World Cup qualifiers, but he’s an important role player in a tournament like this that requires depth and a certain tactical flexibility.

And he’s got reason to believe his role with the team in the competition isn’t done.

“We did what we needed to do, and still we weren’t as clean as we know we needed to be,” he said. “We just need to improve on all the little things. The name of the game in this is win and move on, and we’ve done that.”

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