CHESTER, Pa. -- Chris Pontius is crushing the New York Red Bulls.
In two games against the Red Bulls this season, including the U.S. Open Cup, the Union forward has three of his team’s four goals and drew the penalty kick call for the fourth.
“I mean it’s easy as can be for him,” Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch said after the Union drew against New York, 2-2, Sunday (see game story). “All he has to is run down the field and tap the ball into the goal four times.”
What Marsch meant is all of Pontius’ goal-scoring contributions against his club have been from the same spot. The ball is typically played in from the right side and Pontius, who beats his defender, is able to get on it.
In the one case he didn’t score Sunday, Pontius was hauled down by Damien Perrinelle, earning the penalty kick opportunity.
“Frankly, it’s not doing well on the back side,” Marsch said. “It’s partly Chris Pontius but it’s also just that whoever plays right back for us doesn’t do the job. If they do the job, then it doesn’t trouble us. But because they were late and asleep and don’t see that Chris is running, all of a sudden Chris has tap-ins.”
For Union manager Jim Curtin, those “tap-ins” have less to do with poor defending and more to do with Pontius’ uncanny ability to find those opportunities. The forward has seven goals in 20 games this season.
“Chris is a great player,” he said. “He’s a guy who’s been through the battles in MLS, he’s an excellent winger. I think he’s one of the top in the league -- he’s got a knack around the goal. He has a way of moving in the box that you can’t teach, I can’t coach it. Some players have it, some players don’t. He has a way of arriving in the box at the right time.”
Although Sunday’s match against the Red Bulls will be remembered for the Union’s ferocious two-goal comeback, a straight red card to Ilsinho marred the finish.
Referee Alan Kelly stated through a pool reporter that the card was for, “violent contact, illegal use of arm to the face/head.” Ilsinho wasn’t available for comment, but will miss the Union’s July 23 date with the Montreal Impact.
“I don’t think it was a malicious red card,” Curtin said.
In the 72nd minute, after the Pontius and C.J. Sapong locked the match at two, Ilsinho took possession and began pushing up the right side. Working to slow down the Brazilian, Connor Lade, a generously listed 5-foot-7, wrestled him from behind, earning the foul.
Lade was then hit in the face with an errant Ilsinho forearm.
“It was a factor of Ilsinho getting up after getting a piggy back for about 10 yards," Curtin said. "He flails his arms. Connor is a hard working, hard-nosed player but he’s short. And the height factor, where he would normally have hit him in the chest, catches him under the neck.”
Whether it’s Josh Yaro or Ken Tribbett, the Union have started a rookie center back in all but one game this season. On Sunday, it nearly cost them the game.
Making his second consecutive start and 11th of the season, Tribbett made a hair-pulling mistake in the first half, when in his own end, he became indecisive. Flustered, he turned the ball over to Bradley Wright-Phillips, who dished to Sacha Kljestan for the early Red Bulls lead.
“It’s definitely a mistake,” Tribbett said. “My style of play, I’m trying to build out of the back instead of just lump balls forward. I just have to be a little quicker. But the team kind of helped me bounce back and we were able to sneak a point. So it was a good result.”
Curtin, a former center back himself, felt for Tribbett.
“He was the first guy I went up to after the game,” he said. “As a center back you have to have a short-term memory, similar to being a defensive back in the NFL. You get beat, it’s going to happen. You make mistakes, it’s going to happen. It’s a hard lesson to learn.”
Starting Tribbett wasn’t a matter of in-depth strategy for Curtin. The coach tapped Tribbett for Sunday’s match because he doesn’t like messing with a good thing. The Union shut out D.C. United, 3-0, last weekend.
“Did he make a mistake? Yeah,” Curtin said. “He’s a big boy, he’ll put his arm up. He’s a pro. I thought he responded really well. You can speculate and say if Josh is in there he doesn’t do that, but that’s not what we’re about. Ken is going to bounce back from that mistake.”