A long time ago in D.C. United years. Most won't remember that game against the Houston Dynamo specifically. It was the final game of the 2013 season, a season to forget for the Black-and-Red. The 24th loss in a season that somehow saw another US Open Cup trophy added to the team's trophy case, was the last time that Chris Pontius had played 90 minutes for United.
That is, until last Sunday.
Against the New York Red Bulls, Pontius started the game up top alongside Jairo Arrieta, switching places with Chris Rolfe on the left wing early in the second half. With manager Ben Olsen short on options on the bench to help his team chase the game in a losing effort, Pontius played a complete game.
It had been 512 days since that final game in 2013.
"It's been a progression up [to playing a full 90 minutes]," Pontius told reporters on Friday. "I think you under estimate how much a year off can take its toll on you just coming back. [Playing 90 minutes] was a goal. And I didn't even realize it until after the game, and I thought about it, and I felt good. I was happy with how I felt after it."
After the conclusion of the 2013 season -- which was plagued by injuries for Pontius after his All-Star season of 2012 -- the former 2009 first round draft pick had surgery on his hamstring, with the thought that he would be fit in time for the early part of the 2014 season. But after complications during pre-season training, Pontius didn't appear for United before he went under the knife again, ruling him out until September.
Down the stretch of the 2014 season, Pontius was able to find his way back into the team, and tallied a goal in the league play against Chicago to go along with the goal he scored against Tauro in Champions League play.
This season has seen him get off to a slow start in terms of contributing to United's efforts in Champions League and MLS play, highlighted by his penalty miss against the Red Bulls. But as he has regained his fitness, his form is the next thing to follow.
"There is the fitness component, and then there is the soccer component. I think the fitness component is about there, which is a positive," Olsen said on Friday. "Now we just got to get some of the rhythm and soccer side where he use to be. But naturally, that is going to take time. And he's playing somewhat of a new position for him, but he will get there."
For most of his career, Pontius has featured out wide for United. He has played up top at times during his United career, but when he's at his best, like he was in 2012 when he was named an All-Star and scored 12 times during the season, he played out wide on the left.
Olsen has asked him to play a different role this season thus far. Chris Rolfe was brought in last year to play at left midfield when it was obvious Pontius wasn't going to be able to contribute early on in the season. And now, with Fabian Espindola suspended, Luis Silva on the mend, and Eddie Johnson out for an undetermined amount of time with an heart ailment, Olsen is asking Pontius to play up top alongside Arrieta.
Even so, during games, his position can be quite malleable. Against Montreal in the first game of the season, he played up top the entire time before he was subbed out. Against the Red Bulls, he and Rolfe switched positions, something that just happened naturally during the game.
"In the last game, you saw me and Rolfe switch at the end, so there are a number of moving pieces," Pontius said. "We are able to switch in and out. If I find myself at left mid for a little bit, its not a problem."
That switch came naturally as well, as both players are comfortable enough at either position.
"The switch just happened in the play of the game. We just looked at each other, and said we would keep it this way for a little bit," Pontius added. "I think we were able to find good spaces after that. It's what the game dictates. Against Montreal we were having success with me up top and him out wide, so it just depends. It goes game to game, and its something that we will have to feel out 30 minutes into a game."
That game didn't quite pan out as United had hoped. Pushed around for 45 minutes in the first half, the Black-and-Red came out in the second half with more poise, and began to create opportunities of their own. A second goal was conceded, and Pontius' stoppage time penalty ended up well in the stands.
"You don't want to blow a game out of proportion, especially the second game of the season," Pontius said. "Obviously not happy with it, knew we needed to change things. Second half looked a lot better. Created chances, and if chances go our way, and I finish the [penalty kick] then the game ends differently. There will be days where they fall for you, and days were they don't."