Philadelphia Union

Well-rounded Chris Pontius embraces 'provider' status with Union

Well-rounded Chris Pontius embraces 'provider' status with Union

CHESTER, Pa. -- It’s been a productive week for Chris Pontius. 

Prior to getting engaged Sunday, the Union attacker notched a key assist in Saturday’s win against his former club, D.C. United. He followed that up Wednesday with two primary helpers in a 2-0 win over the Houston Dynamo at Talen Energy Stadium.

“You can’t write it up any better,” Pontius said. “Things came pretty fast. Very, very happy right now.”

Although Pontius is happy about his production, it’s not expected. With a pair of assists Wednesday — a cross-box loft for the Fafa Picault header and centering drive for Ilsinho’s first of the season, the adept goalscorer, who led the Union with 12 goals in 2016, tied his career high in assists with six on the season. It also ties him with Alex for second in MLS in assists.

“Chris has always just been a solid, all-around soccer player,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “He has a knack in front of the goal, whether it’s to get goals or assists.”

So what changed for Pontius? He switched positions. Pontius had no goals and one assist in six games from the left side of the Union’s attack. But after moving to the right against the Montreal Impact on April 22, he still has no goals but the veteran has cashed in five assists in his last five games. 

“I think last year, whether it was Ilsinho or [Fabian] Herbers out on the right and dishing, we tend to find a little more space out wide,” Pontius said. “The guys on the left or the center are going to be the finishers. I’m happy being the provider.” 

Over that span, the Union are 3-0-2 and have outscored their opposition, 12-3. They are riding three-consecutive wins, which they’ve only done twice before in team history and have four-straight shutouts, a club record.

“He had a slow start to the year statistically but still was doing the work,” Curtin said. “Now you’re starting to see balls bounce his way. He made some really good decisive final passes tonight, he also did that against D.C. He’s confident now, a guy you can lean on and trust because he’s been through the battles. He’s playing very well right now, and happy with how he’s performing.”

Regardless of how it happens, Pontius is enjoying the success.

“There’s no better feeling than what we’re going through right now,” he said. “After a rough start, we’ve posted four shutouts in a row, three wins in a row and we have another home game this weekend, so it’s a good feeling right now. We’ve turned things around pretty quickly.”

Rookie Adam Najem hopes to prove he's the playmaker the Union need

usa-adam-najem-union.jpg
USA Today Images

Rookie Adam Najem hopes to prove he's the playmaker the Union need

CHESTER, Pa. -- Jim Curtin has made it clear he won’t use falling out of playoff contention as a reason to throw the team’s youngest, most untested players into the fire.

But the Union head coach also made clear Adam Najem doesn’t necessarily fall into that category, saying this week the rookie midfielder is “right in the discussion” to see more time regardless of where the team might be in the standings.

For Najem, though, just getting onto the field during Philly’s last 10 games of the 2017 season — starting with Saturday’s road tilt vs. the San Jose Earthquakes — is only a short-term goal. Long term, the 22-year-old New Jersey native hopes to emerge as the kind of attacking midfielder the Union can build their team around — in a role that’s usually been occupied by international imports.

“I want to kind of get rid of the stigma that Americans can’t be playmakers,” Najem said after Thursday’s practice. "And if they give me the opportunity to continue improving at the No. 10, I’ll try to show what I can do.”

The Union have struggled to find a consistently good option at that No. 10 spot — an important position that sits behind the striker (CJ Sapong) and in front of the two other central midfielders (Haris Medunjanin and Alejandro Bedoya). Roland Alberg, a native of the Netherlands, and the Brazilian Ilsinho have both shown occasional flashes of brilliance but not nearly enough consistency, leading to speculation that both could be on their way out when the season ends.

At that point, the Union will likely chase a high-priced player, possibly from South America or Europe, to fill that void, as MLS teams are prone to do. But Najem believes he can be the guy, and that more starts as the season winds down can perhaps prove it.

“For me, I want to cement myself as the No. 10 wherever I am,” he said. “Right now, I feel if I continue improving, that can be here. I want to reward Philly for giving me the opportunity to be here. And I want to be that player they look upon to win games. If I get the opportunity, I have to continue working and show I can be the No. 10 they’re looking for.”

Although most of his game action has been with affiliate Bethlehem Steel FC, where he’s made 14 starts, Najem has seen more MLS minutes of late, playing three straight games last month, including his first career start in Columbus on July 22.

And while he felt like he showed for the ball and maintained possession well in that game, he knows he didn’t do nearly enough to help jumpstart a stagnant offense in a 1-0 loss.

“That’s something I want to improve on,” he said. “It kind of left a sour taste in my mouth.”

Najem knows there are other things he can improve upon, and he’s been trying his best to pick up little lessons from other midfielders on the team. 

Medunjanin’s quality on the ball? Bedoya’s vision and awareness? Alberg’s striking ability? Ilsinho’s dribbling moves? Najem has been paying close attention to all of it.

“The type of player I am, I like to take the best out of everyone around me,” he said. “Everyone brings their own style to the game and you try to pick up anything you can and implement your own style of play into that as well.”

Najem has seemed to do that well in training, where he often looks sharp and in control of short-field scrimmages. But as his rookie season winds down, it could be time for him to take the next step — if he’s given the chance.

“In my position, it’s obviously an important one on the field,” he said. “Being a young guy, you have to learn how to deal with that and deal with the pressures.

“If the coaches see I’m working hard enough or improving enough, I’ll be on the field. And if not, I’ll just continue working.”

Philadelphia one of numerous possible sites for 2026 World Cup matches

lambeau_field_0.png
USA Today Images

Philadelphia one of numerous possible sites for 2026 World Cup matches

CHICAGO — The committee that is hoping to bring the 2026 World Cup to the United States, Mexico and Canada is seeking bids from 44 cities that may be interested in hosting matches.

The United Bid Committee is considering 49 stadiums in those regions for inclusion in the official bid that will be sent to soccer's international governing body, FIFA, in March.

The committee announced Tuesday that it will review interest and select a short list of possible host cities in September. The bid ultimately sent to FIFA is expected to include up to 25 venues, but it is expected that 12 cities will be designated as official hosts.

The 2026 World Cup will be the first with a 48-team field. Morocco has also declared its intention to bid for the event.

A list of the possible games sites, broken down by market, venue and capacity:

United States:

Atlanta, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, 75,000.

Baltimore, M&T Bank Stadium, 71,008.

Birmingham, Alabama, Legion Field, 71,594.

Boston, Gillette Stadium (Foxboro), 65,892.

Charlotte, North Carolina, Bank of America Stadium, 75,400.

Chicago, Soldier Field, 61,500.

Cincinnati, Paul Brown Stadium, 65,515.

Cleveland, FirstEnergy Stadium, 68,710.

Dallas, Cotton Bowl, 92,100.

Dallas, AT&T Stadium (Arlington), 105,000.

Denver, Sports Authority Field at Mile High, 76,125.

Detroit, Ford Field, 65,000.

Green Bay, Wisconsin, Lambeau Field, 81,441.

Houston, NRG Stadium, 71,500.

Indianapolis, Lucas Oil Stadium, 65,700.

Jacksonville, Florida, EverBank Field, 64,000.

Kansas City, Missouri, Arrowhead Stadium, 76,416.

Las Vegas, Raiders Stadium, 72,000.

Los Angeles, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, 78,500.

Los Angeles, LA Stadium at Hollywood Park (Inglewood), TBD.

Los Angeles, Rose Bowl (Pasadena) 87,527.

Miami, Hard Rock Stadium, 65,767.

Minneapolis, U.S. Bank Stadium, 63,000.

Nashville, Nissan Stadium, 69,143.

New Orleans, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, 72,000.

New York/New Jersey, MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford), 82,500.

Orlando, Florida, Camping World Stadium, 65,000.

Philadelphia, Lincoln Financial Field, 69,328.

Phoenix, University of Phoenix Stadium (Glendale), 73,000.

Pittsburgh, Heinz Field, 68,400.

Salt Lake City, Rice-Eccles Stadium, 45,807.

San Antonio, Alamodome, 72,000.

San Diego, Qualcomm Stadium, 71,500.

San Francisco/San Jose, Levi's Stadium (Santa Clara), 75,000.

Seattle, CenturyLink Field, 69,000.

Tampa, Florida, Raymond James Stadium, 73,309.

Washington, DC, FedEx Field (Landover), 82,000.

Canada:

Calgary, Alberta, McMahon Stadium, 35,650.

Edmonton, Alberta, Commonwealth Stadium, 56,335.

Montreal, Quebec, Stade Olympique , 61,004.

Montreal, Quebec, Stade Saputo, 20,801.

Ottawa, Ontario, TD Place Stadium, 24,341.

Regina, Saskatchewan, Mosaic Stadium, 30,048.

Toronto, Ontario, Rogers Centre, 53,506.

Toronto, Ontario, BMO Field, 28,026.

Vancouver, British Columbia, BC Place, 55,165.

Mexico:

Guadalajara, Jalisco, Estadio Chivas, 45,364.

Mexico City, Estadio Azteca, 87,000.

Monterrey, Nuevo Le?n, Estadio Rayados, 52,237.