Chris Pontius hasn’t forgotten the 2009 U.S. Open Cup final. He remembers the sting of letting a title slip away, and several trophy-less campaigns since have only heightened the remorse.
While that loss to the Seattle Sounders came midway through Pontius’ rookie year, it’s still the closest he’s come to lifting silverware in a United uniform. But the 26-year-old, now United’s longest-tenured player, will get another opportunity Tuesday when D.C. visits Real Salt Lake in the 100th Open Cup final.
“As a rookie, I understood the importance of the game at the time, 100 percent,” Pontius said Tuesday on NASN’s Open Wide for Some Soccer podcast*. “But not being back to a championship game [since 2009], you don’t realize how little these things come around.
“I’ve wanted to emphasize that to the younger guys on the team. They need to realize what’s on the line here, not only for us as players but what it means to the fans, what it means to the club.”
For a 3-20-6 United side long eliminated from playoff contention, Tuesday’s clash means plenty. It’s an opportunity to salvage something from this lost campaign and put a 13th major title in the club’s trophy case.
It looked until recently like Pontius might miss out on starting that final, as a lingering hamstring issue sidelined the MLS Best XI midfielder for most of July and August.
But having returned with an appearance off the bench Sept. 8 and starting the past two weekends, Pontius now feels ready to fully put that troublesome injury behind him and deliver his first 90-minute performance since July 3.
“You don’t realize how much you miss something until it’s kind of taken away from you,” Pontius said. “Going out and having to watch practice is, I wouldn’t say painful, but it doesn’t feel good. You want to be out there on the field training, you want to go home and be tired after it.”
With coach Ben Olsen planning on using a reserve-heavy squad in Saturday’s league match at Toronto FC, Pontius likely will be saved for Tuesday’s final.
Although he has just two goals this season, it’s safe to say Salt Lake will still focus on shutting down the dynamic winger. After scoring 12 goals last year, Pontius has grown used to attracting physical challenges and double teams aplenty.
“It’s something that comes with the territory,” he continued. “I knew it was going to happen this year, and you have to deal with it. It’s tough at times, but your movement off the ball has to be that much better. You’ve got to be a constant pest for these guys to deal with.
“At times, you’re going to take some hits, and you’ve just got to bounce back up.”
*Full Disclosure: Goal USA editors Thomas Floyd and Seth Vertelney are contributors to the Open Wide for Some Soccer podcast.