- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 21, 2009

D.C. United knew it was getting a talented attacking player when it selected Chris Pontius in the first round of the 2009 draft, but maybe the club underestimated his versatility.

Pontius, who already has three goals in MLS play this season, recorded two goals on headers and an assist while playing in the unfamiliar role of defensive midfielder Wednesday night at RFK Stadium as United qualified for the U.S. Open Cup with a thrilling 5-3 win over the New York Red Bulls.

“I don’t think I’ve scored two headers in a game since high school,” said Pontius, who usually plays on the right flank.

It was the most combined goals for a game at RFK since United beat the New York franchise 6-2 in June 2004.

The 2008 Open Cup winners also received goals from Thabiso Khumalo, Brandon Barklage and Fred. Dane Richards and Jorge Rojas tallied for the Red Bulls.

While pleased with a victory, United’s players worried about giving up three goals after taking a stunning 4-0 lead in the opening 26 minutes.

“We were really clicking, and it could have been 6-0,” Pontius said. “We got four, but I had chances where I decided to pass but should have been looking to shoot first. It’s hard to keep going at that pace, especially when a lot of our guys haven’t been playing full 90-minute games. New York started figuring us out.”

Wary of a league game at home Saturday, United coach Tom Soehn rested a number of his starters.

Pontius began the goal fest when he headed in Christian Gomez’s corner kick from seven yards out in the eighth minute.

“We move him around everywhere, and he continues to adapt to where he plays,” Soehn said of the former Santa Barbara standout.

United extended the lead 10 minutes later when Khumalo took a breakaway pass from Gomez. The South African dribbled around Red Bulls goalie Danny Cepero and slotted the ball in the net from a narrow angle to make it 2-0.

United thought it had put the game away two minutes later when midfielder Brandon Barklage blasted in a right-footed shot after Cepero had fumbled Ange N’Silu’s attempt.

Then Fred made up for an earlier miss when he finished off a rebound to give United a 4-0 lead in the 26th minute.

But the Red Bulls did not quit. Richards’ shot in the 44th minute got past United goalie Josh Wicks.

“You make one mental slip, and they are back in the game,” Wicks said. “No one likes to be 4-0 down, so they came out on all cylinders.”

The Red Bulls opened the second half with a stunning volley from substitute Rojas to make it 4-2.

Pontius then earned his second goal of the night in the 52nd minute, finishing Fred’s cross to give United a three-goal cushion.

But the Red Bulls weren’t done. United defender Greg Janicki was called for a hand ball in the penalty area in the 61st minute, and Rojas converted the penalty kick to make it 5-3.

The Red Bulls also rested many of their regular players, with no starter from the club’s last MLS game in its first 11. Star striker Juan Pablo Angel didn’t even make the trip.

United is unbeaten is eight games in all competitions and remains undefeated at RFK this season. With the win, the club joins seven other MLS teams in the first round of the Open Cup next month.

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