Southern California native Chris Pontius came west and scored three goals to boost DC United past the Seattle Sounders, 3-2, Thursday night before 36,146 fans on the Xbox Pitch at Qwest Field.
Pontius, who starred at the University of California Santa Barbara and was DC United’s first pick of the 2009 draft, broke the scoring ice at the 39 minute mark with one of two unassisted goals of the initial stanza. The second came at the 44 minute mark.
The opening goal was a 25-yard effort that shot off of Seattle midfielder Patrick Ianni’s back and landed in the back of the net after catching goalkeeper Kasey Keller going the wrong way.
DC United’s second score was a drive from 17 yards out that deflected off the hands of Keller and rolled inside the left post.
The game matched a pattern of Sounders' performances in other close games lost, the difference being that in previous instances the team was often shut out by a 1-0 score that proved a jinx. The Sounders believed that the figurative monkey had been removed from their backs with Saturday night’s 3-0 triumph over the New England Revolution.
Seattle Coach Sigi Schmid following the team’s Tuesday practice at Qwest Field warned that DC United “could be a dangerous team,” and that his comment was not “coach’s speak.” He noted that in a highly competitive MLS that any team could defeat any opponent on any given day.
Schmid’s first comment at his post-game news conference was “We were beaten tonight by Chris Pontius.”
First year DC mentor Curt Onalfo nursed his 2-0 lead effectively by throwing up a defense consisting of 10 men at the Sounders’ end, working the clock in the process.
With omnipresent midfielder Pontius leading the way, however, the visitors had one shot in the second period and made it count when he headed in a free kick from Santino Quaranta. In the confusion of the moment there was a dispute over whether Pontius or Adam Cristman scored the goal.
Pontius notched his final goal at the 79 minute mark. Pontius stated after the game that he was unsure whether he or Cristman notched the goal but it was credited to the talented midfielder and he emerged with a hat trick for the evening.
At that point the stunned Sounders bounced back with intensity, scoring two quick goals. With the electrified crowd cheering them on the locals battled until the final three minutes of stoppage play ended.
A bright spot of the evening for the Sounders was the driving intensity of Freddie Ljungberg. Operating from the right flank at midfield, he exercised his independence with gusto as he drove time and again into DC United territory, providing crisp crosses to Fredy Montero and Steve Zakuani while keeping visiting goalkeeper and team captain Troy Perkins busy.
On one occasion overzealous defense by Pontius resulted in a yellow card.
With the Sounders down 3-0 Ljungberg and his mates went to work in earnest. The first goal came at the 90 minute mark on a 12-yard shot by defender James Riley after receiving a pass from Nathan Sturgis. The shot deflected off a DC United defender and landed in the net.
Fredy Montero, aided by crosses from Ljungberg, had been knocking on the visitors’ door all night long. The team’s leading scorer reached fruition with his team leading fifth goal of the campaign.
The goal was achieved unsurprisingly on a cross from Ljungberg.
Montero performs effectively against DC United. He notched his fourth goal against the DC contingent in as many meetings, including the U.S. Open Cup Final.
As for DC United coach Curt Onalfo, he likes Qwest Field. The victory made him 2-0 in Seattle, including the win he notched last season while coaching Kansas City.
The Sounders continued battling, stepping up the pace and using stoppage time in an effort to achieve a tie while the crowd reached its highest volume pitch of the game. Afterwards Sigi Schmid questioned the timing process as he spoke to officials.
As for the team reaction, the two quick goals reminded the Sounders of what they can achieve.
Despite the loss, the two goals against DC United alongside those in the impressive 3-0 shutout last Saturday night against the New England Revolution has thrown off the oppressive psychological yoke of the earlier shutout defeats.
In the dressing room the team was philosophical about the loss, taking the attitude that a long season remained and that the road to playoff opportunity resumes after the break with a June 27 date at Philadelphia.
Freddie Ljungberg and James Riley both stated that the Sounders did not attempt anything new tactically in launching the comeback. It was just a case of coordinating the effort and achieving results.
Ljungberg has always been quick to remind questioners that the MLS plays a long season. “This is one game,” he said afterwards. “After the break we will resume with determination to pursue our goal of getting into the playoffs.”
Riley, delighted by the goal he scored, emphasized the spirit displayed in the comeback effort.
“We didn’t do anything new,” he said. “We just went to work and achieved results. Unfortunately we just ran out of time.”
As for DC United, Sigi Schmid was correct. DC is a dangerous team and now boasts a three game unbeaten string with two victories and a tie. It is a young team beginning to find its niche under first-year coach Onalfo.
The Sounders go into the World Cup break with a 4-6-3 mark and 15 points. DC United is 3-8-1 with 10 points. The win moved DC out of the Eastern Conference cellar while the Sounders remain in sixth place in the West.
Once more the statistics reveal that the Sounders played solid possession soccer. The 20 shots taken set a team record. DC United took six shots. Another Sounders record was set for the shortest time to score two goals.