WASHINGTON, January 28, 2014 — On his first day back with D.C. United since leaving for hamstring surgery in November, Chris Pontius might have wondered if had walked into the wrong locker room on Monday, when the club gathered for its first day of preseason training. United, which suffered its worst ever season last year, has undergone a total makeover in the off-season. The D.C. outfit has added over 12 new players to its roster, with more to arrive before the season kickoff against the Columbus Crew on March 8 at RFK Stadium.
Pontius did some light training with his new teammates, joining up with some of the club’s notable new signings, including MLS veterans Fabian Espindola, Sean Franklin and Davy Arnaud.
The United attacking midfielder said that while the club has changed dramatically many of the new players joining the team were experienced veterans and would fit in quickly.
“A lot of the guys we have brought in have played over 200-plus games in MLS,” Pontius said. “You’re talking about Bobby [Boswell], Davy [Arnaud] and Eddie [Johnson]. It’s a good group that doesn’t lack MLS experience. That’s the main thing for us. These guys are veterans in MLS games so I don’t think it will be too much of a challenge for them to fit in with our team.”
And the 26-year-old says he is recovery nicely following surgery on his left hamstring.
“I’m just doing sprint work,” Pontius said. “I’m still not in full training but hopefully in the next few weeks I’ll be in with them [the first team] and hopefully fit for the first game of the year.”
Pontius has a history of hamstring injuries. In September of 2010, he had surgery on his right hamstring. He bounced back from that injury and hopes to do the same this time.
“Every time you have surgery, you feel like you have hit a wall,” Pontius said. “Then you turn a corner. Things have gotten progressively better in the last two weeks, so I feel pretty good.”
Pontius would like to forget last season. United did win the U.S. Cup, but came in dead last in the league, winning just three games. After scoring a career-high 12 goals in 2012, Pontius managed just two goals last season.
“Last year was difficult in many ways but we still came out with a trophy,” Pontius said. “I wouldn’t say it was fun by any means coming in losing so many games, so it’s nice to be able to hit the refresh button and get going with a new group of guys…It’s nice seeing all these fresh faces. Our goal is always to win the MLS Cup and we have CONCACAF [Champions League] games this year as well, so that’s a new challenge for this team.”
Pontius is United’s longest tenured player and with veterans Dejan Jakovic and Dwayne De Rosario now gone, he is expected to play a leadership role on the team this year.
“I feel I have more responsibility and the coaches have given me more responsibility and I welcome that,” said Pontius, who also noted that United has plenty of leadership material on the roster this year: “Davy Arnaud was captain at Montreal and Bobby [Boswell] is a voice in the locker room and a leader. Sean [Franklin] is the same.”
Pontius is also looking forward to playing alongside Eddie Johnson on the United frontline.
“Eddie plays for the U.S. team and has a shot at going to Brazil [World Cup] so having him on the field is big in all aspects,” Pontius said. “I’ve had interactions with Eddie and it’s always been positive. We will welcome him with open arms when he gets back from [U.S. team] camp.”
John Haydon wrote a soccer column for The Washington Times for over 20 years. He has covered two World Cups and written about Major League Soccer from the league’s inception in 1996. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnahaydon