Union

Union's Chris Pontius embracing time with U.S. national team as Gold Cup stops in Philly

Union's Chris Pontius embracing time with U.S. national team as Gold Cup stops in Philly

CHESTER, Pa. — Chris Pontius wasn’t even supposed to be on the U.S. national team’s Gold Cup roster.

But after getting called in at the last minute as an injury replacement, the Union winger has emerged as an important member of the team — now with a unique opportunity to wear his country’s colors in front of his hometown fans.

After playing the full 90 minutes in the Americans’ 3-0 defeat of Nicaragua on Saturday — a result that clinched Group B — Pontius was kept on the roster after head coach Bruce Arena switched six players ahead of Wednesday’s quarterfinal game vs. El Salvador at Lincoln Financial Field (9 p.m., FS1). 

What does Arena’s confidence mean to Pontius?

“It’s huge for a player,” Pontius said from Penn’s Rhodes Field, where the USMNT has been training this week. “If you have a coach that instills confidence in you, it allows you to go play your game a little bit more freely. He’s always talking to us about our roles and what he wants from us. It’s different game to game, so that’s translated through him, and we knew what we needed to do, especially going into that last game. And we got it done.”

The 30-year-old Pontius got a few national team sniffs early in his career but had been mostly out of the picture until Arena was hired to succeed Jurgen Klinsmann in November. Soon after, he made his official debut in a friendly vs. Serbia in January and has since seen the field in the last two Gold Cup games.

“I’ll just say it this way: Bruce knows exactly what he’s gonna get from Chris,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said. “And Bruce has a tendency to like guys he can rely on.”

Curtin added that Union captain Alejandro Bedoya is equally reliable, which is why Arena leaned on Bedoya’s leadership to help the USMNT win Group B with a mostly young, untested roster. Bedoya was then one of the six players to be cut loose from the squad but only because he wanted to be with his wife, who gave birth to their second child Tuesday morning.

For Curtin, seeing two Union players start for the U.S. national team in a tournament game was an important step for the franchise. He’s also happy to see the Gold Cup stop in Philly for a pair of quarterfinal games — Panama faces Costa Rica before the U.S. and El Salvador tangle — a year after the Linc played host to a Copa America Centenario game between the U.S. and Paraguay.

Well, maybe not entirely happy.

“It makes me angry I’m out of town,” said Curtin, whose Union team will be in Montreal to face the Impact (7:30 p.m., TCN) during Wednesday’s Gold Cup doubleheader at the Linc. “Any time the national team can come to Philadelphia, you want to be able to attend those training sessions, to be at the games, to get a feel — because Philadelphia is a great soccer town. It’s got a rich history in soccer. The Philadelphia Union is still a newer club and trying to grow and become stronger. But when the national team is here, it’s special.

“Hopefully our fans in Philly can make this as hostile of an environment as possible for El Salvador.”

Considering the new additions to the retooled U.S. national team include four of the most accomplished players in USMNT history in Tim Howard, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore, it may be tough for Pontius to see the field Wednesday.

But should the opportunity come to play in front of Philly fans, he’ll seize it.

“That would be great,” he said. “I’m ready.”

Either way, just being at USMNT camp for the second time this year after such a long hiatus is an “honor” he knows “every American strives for.” And he hopes the experience will translate to more success with the Union after an up-and-down first half of the season in which he logged a healthy six assists but failed to score a goal.

“Sure, I’ve had multiple games where I could’ve easily scored and I needed to do better with my chances,” said Pontius, who was shifted from the left wing to the right earlier in the season. “I know that. I’m well aware of it. Hopefully just playing at this level translates to success on the field with Philly for me.”

Sebastien Le Toux immortalized in Union Ring of Honor

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USA Today Images

Sebastien Le Toux immortalized in Union Ring of Honor

CHESTER, Pa. — Over six seasons with the Union, Sebastien Le Toux became the face of the franchise, the expansion side’s foundation, and local folk hero. 

On Saturday, the Union made him a legend. 

“It’s great to have this moment and it was very emotional, but it was amazing,” Le Toux said. “I cannot describe it. When you are a player, you cannot dream about it. For it to happen to me, it is weird but awesome at the same time.”

At halftime of the Union’s 4-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps at Talen Energy Stadium, Le Toux was officially unveiled as the first member of the Union Ring of Honor. His name, boldy presented, was strewn opposite the River End above sections 116 through 118. 

“There was an energy in the stadium, which was special,” said Union manager Jim Curtin. “It was a really good job by our front office to honor him on a special day. With the signage, I think they renamed the stadium from the size of it.” 

Gathering at midfield, Le Toux was flanked by former Union midfielder Brian Carroll and former Homegrown player Zach Pfeffer, along with Union sporting director Earnie Stewart and team owner Jay Sugarman. The team presented Le Toux with a fan-signed jersey, framed jersey and tribute video, which included former players Conor Casey, Kyle Nakazawa and Tranquillo Barnetta. 

“I had a great time with all those players and this team,” Le Toux said. “I still have a lot of great memories, more than any player in this team, Tranquillo, Conor, all those guys, we had a great time on the field but also of course I’m still friends with a lot of them. Even though they’re far away.”

Despite the fairytale finish on Saturday, Le Toux’s time with the Union had its ups and downs. He leads the Union franchise in games played (175), career goals (50), assists (50), career shots (320) and shots in a season (90). 

He scored a hat trick in the Union’s first-ever home match against D.C. United in 2010, but he was also traded twice, unceremoniously, by the club on separate occasions. It hurt at the time, but was something Le Toux joked about at halftime. 

“They traded me once, they traded me twice, but now I’m here forever, and nobody can trade me from that,” Le Toux said. “It’s awesome. I’m a part of this team and this club and I can’t be more proud of that.”

Le Toux was the first name added to the Union’s Ring of Honor, and there’s room for a second, which Curtin believes should be Brian Carroll, who retired last season and currently lives in Indianapolis working as a financial planner.

“If there’s a guy who should be the next one in, it’s him,” Curtin said. “He’s embodies this club, this team and he’s a winner. His career, he’s just a special player. It’s always good to see him.”

Union honor Sebastien Le Toux with highlight reel win over Whitecaps

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USA Today Images

Union honor Sebastien Le Toux with highlight reel win over Whitecaps

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. — Borek Dockal and the Union honored Sebastien Le Toux’s induction into the Ring of Honor the best way they knew how: With an offensive onslaught. 

Dockal scored twice and Ilsinho, Fafa Picault buried penalty kicks, as the Union took down the Vancouver Whitecaps, 4-0, Saturday at Talen Energy Stadium. Andre Blake earned the no-save shutout. 

The win snapped a two-game losing streak for the Union to move their record to 6-7-3. It also broke a six-game unbeaten run for the Whitecaps, who fall to 6-6-5. 

• After spending the first 23 minutes almost exclusively in the Whitecaps’ end, the Union finally broke free in the 24th minute. Inside the box, Ilsinho and Dockal made an exchange in traffic that resulted in Dockal with a clean left-footed shot for the 1-0 Union lead.

• He wasn’t done. In the 71st, Dockal worked his defender after accepted an in-box pass from Alejandro Bedoya. He took two steps and beat Brian Rowe to the left side to give the Union the 2-0 advantage. 

• It was Dockal’s fourth and fifth goal of the season and fourth in his last six games. After a slow start, he has been on fire for the Union. 

• One downside to the match is C.J. Sapong’s struggle. Despite the overwhelming pressure in the first half, Sapong wasn’t able to muster more than a couple wasted chances, forcing Union manager Jim Curtin to pull him in the 66th minute for Cory Burke. 

• Sapong has only two shots on goal (one on Saturday) since May, and hasn’t scored since April 28. It’s a troubling trend for the starting forward. 

• Burke made his presence felt immediately by earning an in-box foul after being hauled down by Jose Aja, who earned the straight red. Lining up for the kick wasn’t Dockal for the hat trick, but Ilsinho, who ripped his shot over Rowe for 3-0 Union lead. It was his fourth goal of the season. 

• And that wasn’t the only red card or penalty kick. In stoppage time of the second half, Yordy Reyna fouled Picault in the box for his second yellow and ejection. Burke lined up for the PK, but Picault pulled him away, then buried the goal. 

• Entering the match, the Union were at a disadvantage. Haris Medunjanin was issued an addition two games to a red-card suspension he earned against Atlanta United on June 2. In his spot, veteran Warren Creavalle sat behind Alejandro Bedoya in the midfield. 

• Le Toux was honored at half time and his name was placed in the Union’s Ring of Honor opposite the River End. Le Toux, who still lives in the city, spent six seasons with the Union and leads them in almost all offensive categories. 

• The Union players wore armbands with the initials WB to honor the late Walter Bahr, a Philadelphia-area soccer legend who died June 18. Bahr is considered one of U.S. Soccer’s greatest players and influencers. He was 91.