Playing the longshot role seems to come natural for Chris Pontius.
The Servite graduate followed that script again this summer when he was a late call-up to the U.S. Men’s national soccer team as it prepared for the CONCACAF Gold Cup, a tournament featuring teams from North America, Central America and the Caribbean.
Pontius, 30, made his first appearance with the national team last winter, entering as a substitute late in a pair of international friendlies against Serbia and Jamaica, but the biennial Gold Cup sits on another level, considered one of the biggest tournaments on the schedule for participating nations.
“Anytime you’re called into the national team, it’s an honor,” Pontius told the Delaware County Daily Times as the U.S. prepared to play El Salvador in the quarterfinals July 19 in Philadelphia. “This is truly an honor. It’s what every American strives for. I’m just trying to take my chances the best I can and leave my impression and my mark on this squad.”
Pontius, 30, didn’t play in a 0-0 tie against Panama in the Gold Cup opener July 8, and entered late as a substitute in the second game, a 3-2 win against Martinique.
With the U.S. needing to win its third game by at least three goals to win its group, Pontius played all 90 minutes of the 3-0 victory July 15 against Nicaragua. Another major accomplishment occurred the following day when coach Bruce Arena brought in six new players and sent six others home.
Pontius kept his spot on the team.
“It’s huge for a player,” Pontius said following a workout at the University of Pennsylvania before the quarterfinals. “If you have a coach that instills confidence in you, it allows you to go play your game a little bit more freely.”
Pontius’s call-up to the national team and ability to remain on the roster throughout the Gold Cup was a surprise to many, but not those who’ve known him since his days at Servite.
His finished his four-year career at Servite with 39 goals, third-most in program history at the time. He wasn’t highly recruited, however, yet still found a way onto the UC Santa Barbara men’s team.
After ending his four-year career with the Gauchos as the fifth-leading goal scorer in program history, Pontius was selected seventh overall in the 2009 MLS draft by the D.C. United.
That figured to be the highest level of soccer Pontius would reach, as he spent the next seven seasons with the United before he was traded to the Philadelphia Union in December of 2015.
Pontius was preparing for his second season with the Union when he received a call last January that he had long been waiting for, a chance to join the USMNT. Pontius made his debut against Serbia on Jan. 29 and just missed scoring in the final seconds of the 1-1 tie.
He played again four days later in a 1-0 win against Jamaica, then returned to the Union to prepare for the season opener March 11.
He was having an up-and-down season with Philadelphia when he received the call on July 5, giving him the news that he was wanted on the national teal as a replacement for injured midfielder Kenny Saief.
Three days later, he was in uniform for the Gold Cup opener.