- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 26, 2009

Before the season, few would have imagined Chris Pontius would be one of the first names that coach Tom Soehn jots down as he prepares his starting lineup.

But a month into the season, the rookie forward has played every minute of D.C. United’s five MLS games and has been influential on offense.

It’s still early, but the rookie has shown maturity and calmness. Luciano Emilio, Fred and Santino Quaranta have all commented on how much they enjoy playing with him.

“I set some goals for myself, just to try and get playing time and get on the field and help where I can,” said Pontius, a first-round draft pick (seventh overall). “Things opened up with some injuries, and I think I’ve done well with the time I’ve gotten.”

Soehn said Pontius reminds him of Ante Razov, who has scored 114 career MLS goals. The Chivas USA forward was a teammate of Soehn’s with the Chicago Fire for three seasons.

“They have similarities and traits,” Soehn said. “Chris has more versatility though. Ante was primarily at striker.”

That’s high praise for the former UC Santa Barbara standout, but the 21-year-old seems to have a knack of putting himself in good positions at the right time. He looks set to earn another start Sunday against the New York Red Bulls at Giants Stadium.

“I’m getting to know the players better after every game and being comfortable with them and knowing where they want me to put the ball,” said Pontius, who can play at forward or as a midfielder on the right flank.

Not since defender Ryan Nelsen came straight from college in 2001 has a United draftee started the team’s first five games. And Pontius has contributed greatly during his time on the pitch. He scored a stunning goal in his debut, a 2-2 tie at the Galaxy; he set up Emilio’s goal in a 2-1 loss at Real Salt Lake; and he played a perfect ball for Fred to score in Wednesday’s win against FC Dallas in a U.S. Open Cup play-in game.

He’s one of a number of young players who have impressed Soehn this season on a team he calls the “deepest he has ever coached.”

United (1-1-3, six points) is looking for its first road win after a tie at Los Angeles and a loss at Real Salt Lake. In league play, United is coming off a 1-1 tie against New England nine days ago. The mood remains confident following Wednesday’s win against FC Dallas.

“We need to find a way to get wins on the road, and the way you do it is start learning to win games at home first,” captain Jaime Moreno said.

The Red Bulls (1-3-2, five points) lost 1-0 to Kansas City on Thursday.

Notes - United added former New England defender Avery John to its roster Thursday; the 33-year-old is available for Sunday’s game. Christian Gomez (hamstring) and Ange N’Silu (hip) are out. …

Quaranta, whose hamstring has healed, could earn his first league start of the season after a solid midweek performance. “I take it a day at a time here, and all I can do is work hard,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of work to be back again, and I feel great. It’s been four weeks since I came back, and just now I’m feeling fit. I didn’t know it took this long [to heal], but it does.”

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