As the 2013 MLS season approaches, we're counting down the days to March 2 and running the proverbial rule over each player on D.C. United's roster. Today's subject: 2012 MLS All-Star Game MVP and Best XI selection Chris Pontius.
Since Chris Pontius' rookie year, when he played left and right midfield, forward and defensive midfield, fans and pundits have debated his best position. Dynamic going forward, admirably two-footed and willing and able to unleash a very quick and powerful shot, Pontius is most certainly an attacking player. He's got the work rate to track back on defense and earn a nearly automatic starting spot in Ben Olsen's lineup, but nobody will confuse him for a D-mid (not now that Tommy Soehn is gone, anyway).
But the debate hasn't ended; it's just been narrowed down to two positions, left midfielder and forward. Pontius has spent most of his time for United as a midfielder - even deputizing in a central attacking midfielder (at least in the defensive phase) - but he's shown great promise in his limited stints on the front line, where he generally plays as a "second" forward, drifting wide and making runs off of a bigger forward and taking advantage of his partner's occupying the opposing center backs.
And it's that tendency to play as the second forward that leads me to say that Pontius will continue as a wide midfielder in Ben Olsen's 4-2-3-1/4-4-2 hybrid system. Pontius might be capable of playing as a lone forward, but we haven't really seen it, and United don't need to experiment with him in that role because we have guys like Lionard Pajoy, Rafael and Casey Townsend to hold it down. The second forward position on the roster sheet has Dwayne De Rosario written down in Sharpie, so Pontius won't be seeing time in that spot, either.
In any event, United isn't as deep at wide midfield as we'd all like them to be. Behind the starting duo of Pontius and Nick DeLeon, there's a definite drop off. Lewis Neal and fullbacks Taylor Kemp and James Riley are capable of playing on the outside of midfield, but not with the same effect or attacking verve of the starters. Even if trialist Marcos Sanchez is signed to a deal, we're still too thin at the position to realistically be able to move Pontius up top, even if the tactics supported such a move.
It may well be that Chris Pontius' future is as a goal-rampaging forward. But the future is not now. For now, Party Boy looks likely to stay out wide.