Chris Pontius

Quote sheet: Union vs. Dynamo

POST-MATCH QUOTES: Philadelphia Union vs. Houston Dynamo, 5.17.17
 
Philadelphia Union Head Coach Jim Curtin
 
Opening statement…
 
A very professional performance from the guys. I thought they put a lot into the game. That’s not an easy group to shut out and contain. I think Wilmer Cabrera has done a great job with that team. One of the most dangerous counter attacking teams I’ve seen in a while. Our guys did a very good job of making it hard on Alex, first and foremost. It’s been three very talented players in our league in a row. Between Sacha [Kljestan], [Luciano] Acosta, and now Alex, we’ve done a good job of forcing them to play square and backwards. You’re never going to completely shut down such talented players, but playing the percentages and minimizing their chances was very good on the night. I thought you could go through each guy and they all checked a lot of positive boxes for us. This shutout streak now, we’ve challenged them. It’s not like a no hitter where we’re not talking about it. We’re talking about it a lot and the guys have really taken pride in it. It starts with CJ and all the way back. I thought the first half was excellent, some really good soccer. Took our foot off the gas maybe a little in the second and didn’t close it out as easily as maybe we could have, but, at the same time, for a quick turnaround, I know everyone likes to say it’s an amazing feat for professional athletes to play Saturday-Wednesday. But trust me when I say the sports performance department does a great job with the Philadelphia Union. Our guys were more than ready to go. Every metric that we use told us that and they, to their credit, executed out on the field today. It’s a quick turnaround now with Colorado coming in. I thought our fans were excellent tonight. It’s again, something to build on now and we have to keep this thing going.
 
On Ilsinho’s performance…
 
He’s a talented player. I think we’ve all seen his ability to go one-v-one at defenders. It’s almost a little strange that now a lot of the things we were trying to get him to do as a winger, to run in behind and really stretch the defense, he’s doing a good job at the number 10 spot. Hearing it over and over again I think has been a positive. When he gets in space, it’s very difficult for defenders. Not one guy has been able to stop him, as you saw on kind of the full field run he went on when he hits it off the post. He’s playing confident right now. I think it needs to be said: he’s putting in a lot of work in defensively too. He emptied his tank tonight. Great for him to get a very good goal, and a goal that was a Philadelphia Union goal. I thought too much in the first half we had a lot of line flicks and tricks and heel balls and, I won’t curse, but not real plays. So, we got back to passing, getting the ball on the ground and giving it to the next guy gets us the second goal. I thought we still lost our way a little in the second half, were a little with some possessions, but credit to the guys who came into the game. I thought Keegan came in in a tough assignment and did a good job. Obviously Ray was on the yellow and thinking there was the refs basically had a conference saying one more foul and he’s done, so we were proactive in that regard. Warren Creavalle came in a broke up a ton of plays, did a great job, and Herbers gave us some life on the left hand side where they started to get down – our left, their right, where they were starting to have some joy. Overall, good team performance on the evening.
 
On the importance of having 11 guys on the field who can win aerial duels…
 
I like the ball on the ground. That’s where I prefer it. And I thought, again, in the first half when we’re all moving and really want the ball in tight spots, and yes, we will make mistakes, but we still get on with the game and play. I thought that was important. We did win a lot of aerial duels tonight: our ability to run off of CJ, run off of Pontius. Guys that can jump and obviously, we talked a lot this week about getting balls to the back post against Houston because they’re fairly tough to break down obviously and that ball that got clipped to the back was a really good ball and Fafa attacked it well. Aerial duels come up a bunch but we prefer to play with the ball on the ground and make the other team work.
 
On Chris Pontius’s game as a winger…
 
Chris is always just been a solid, all-around soccer player. He has a knack in front of the goal, whether it’s to get goals or assists. He has an engine. A lot of people labeled him as an injury prone guy which is, again, a load of garbage because he’s a guy who takes care of his body as good as anyone, any pro I’ve ever been around. He’s put together now a really long run of games for us. Had a slow start to the year, statistically, but still was doing the work. Now you’re starting to see balls bounce his way. He made some really good decisive final passes tonight. Also did against D.C. He’s confident right now. A guy you can lean on and trust, he’s been through the battles. I keep thinking he’s like 35 years old, but he’s still [30], still a young guy. He’s playing really well right now. Happy with how he’s performing and he’s been a leader for us as well through the tough early stages of the season.
 
On how taxing the game was tonight and how that affects the game on Saturday against Colorado…
 
I mean, listen. Again, we all watch now the [English Premier League] and the Bundesliga and the buzz word is “squad rotation” and I understand that. Those teams have $200 million budgets, so it’s a little different in that regard. Our guys are fit and they’re honest with me. They tell me when they can run. It’s a product of the two-a-days, the hard work in the preseason. We have to work hard to set ourselves up to be able to get through these Wednesday games. I know, like I said in the midweek, and I said it with a smile, I’m not saying it be a condescending jerk, but if we would have went out tonight and I kept the lineup the same and we would have lost, there would’ve been criticism. The only thing that keeps it quiet is if we win and our guys did that tonight. They came out and did a good job. If I would have juggled things, it would’ve been “How could you change a team that won 4-0?” You’re not going to win in those regards, but your players that you trust to go out on the field and execute and they did it. So I’m really proud of them for that and it will be a quick turnaround now going into Colorado, a team that’s hungry. You know their coach, you know Pablo [Mastroeni], and he’s going to have them ready to fight for every ball, so it’s going to be another one. I did mention too that this is the tougher game now, obviously. To turn around Wednesday and Saturday is tough, but I think our guys can handle it. We’ll lean heavily on the sports performance department again. The guys will get some rest tonight, they’ll get good food, they’ll get hydrated again, they’ll get massages, they’ll get everything possible to get their bodies ready to go. They’re honest with me, so if one of them is not ready, he’ll tell us and the next man will be stepping up. We have a really good squad, guys itching to get on the field. Like you saw tonight, every reserve that came in did a good job and we have a stable full of other guys that are really itching to go as well, so we’ll make the decision once we get through tomorrow at practice.
 
On whether or not they feel as if they’re showing everyone what this team is about after a tough start…
 
That’s for everyone else to discuss. I still believe, Earnie still believed, the players in the locker room still believed we had a really good team and we weren’t that far off. Yeah, is the shutout streak a little abnormal and something that is maybe a bit of an outlier? Yes, but we knew we could score goals, we knew we had a group that was willing to fight and you’re seeing now with it comes confidence and they’re not tired right now, trust me. None of them are tired because they’re happy as can be. They’ve scored a ton of goals now in a short amount of time. It’s amazing what that can do, some good results that go your way. We were still, and I’ll still say it, we were playing good soccer early in the season as well. Some things didn’t go our way and wins became ties and ties became losses and that’s hard. But I think our group is stronger because of it. I think we’re together and I’d like to say that the negative stuff is behind us now, we got it out of the way early in the season. We want to get on a run now. We’re not a finished product, we’re not perfect, but at the same time, I think it’s something that our fans can be proud of because those guys go out and fight for 90 minutes.
 
On the relationship of Haris Medunjanin and Alejandro Bedoya in the middle…
 
Again, everybody knows how good they are with the ball at their feet, they both can really pass, but now the relationship is kind of growing where they know where the other guy is going to be defensively. They’re really putting in a lot of dirty running that maybe doesn’t show up at all and get rewarded on the stat sheet but the amount of ground Ale covered tonight to get out and slide, the commitment from Haris to cover and be in front of the center backs and vice versa now. When Haris slides out, Ale’s right there protecting the center backs. And we believe in pressure to the ball because the best defenders in the world can’t defend when there’s no pressure to the ball and that would go to the last four minutes of the half would be an example. So, once our front four, I thought, took their foot off the gas when we were up 2-0 for the last four minutes of the half, I went nuts at them at halftime because we can’t defend if there’s no pressure to the ball. There’s so many talented players in this league that, if we’re sitting back, we’ll get picked apart. And it starts now with the front four but then Ale and Haris have done an incredible job of breaking plays up and then not only winning the ball, but then connecting that first pass and giving us a pause, a time to breathe and move our lines. So, I’d say it’s a very good relationship that they have, they’ve done a really good job kind of meshing together. They’re two great players.
 
On whether or not he knew Fafa Picault could jump that high…
 
We’ve seen it in training. He can run fast too. You saw on the one where we maybe could have got that third goal where he had that separation. He has that getaway speed. I thought he put in a lot of work tonight. Yeah, he can jump, no question about it. He is a guy that covers a ton of ground also and has worked hard defensively, but yeah. Good for him to get on the end of the cross. A lot of times it’s just about jumping first. So on that one he jumps first and almost elevates off the guy’s back because he’s up early, but yes. He can definitely get up a little bit.
 
 
Philadelphia Union midfielder Chris Pontius
 
On the week, which included his engagement and a victory over Houston…
 
It’s pretty special. You can’t write it up any better. Things came pretty fast. I’m very, very happy right now.
 
On his switch to right midfield…
 
I certainly feel more comfortable out there. I can go inside, shoot on my left, I still post that option. I haven’t had many opportunities to do that yet, but tonight there were options for me to serve the ball. We had Fafa [Picault] get on the end of one and Ilsinho get on the end of one. I’ve said my role might be different every game, whether it’s assisting, defensively, or getting on the scoresheet. Kind of take what they give us right now.
 
On tying his career-high in assists…
 
I think last year, whether it was Ilsinho or [Fabian] Herbers out on the right dishing, it just seems that we tend to find a little bit more space out there out wide. The guys on the left or in the center are going to be the finishers. I’m happy being the provider. There’s no better feeling than what we’re going through right now. After a rough start, we’ve posted four shutouts now. Three wins in a row, and we have another home game this weekend. It’s a good feeling right now. We’ve turned things around pretty quickly.
 
On Ilsinho at the 10…
 
You certainly don’t want to get faced up with him one-on-one at the top of the box. He’s gotten people in some pretty tough situations there. He’s very creative on the ball. He always wants the ball in tough spots. He works his butt off in there, so he’s versatile. The beautiful thing about this formation is that if he wanders out to the right one play and I get stuck in the middle, I can play there until there’s room to switch. We can be interchangeable and that poses problems for defenses. You saw it in the first 35, 40 minutes tonight. We were going pretty well and we could have had a few more goals. I certainly think the heat played a factor in the second half for us with the amount of energy we put into that first 40 [minutes]. The second half wasn’t necessarily pretty, but there are going to be games like that where you’re up 2-0 and you’re just going to defend, close it out and get there three points.
 
On what has changed for the Union…
 
It starts defensively. I think we were hard-done by a few results earlier in the year. We weren’t an 0-4-4 team. That was the biggest thing for me. I’ve been on a bad team. I know what a bad team feels like. I knew we weren’t an 0-4-4 team. We just kept plugging away. We didn’t change much. We showed up to work, rolled up our sleeves and got the job done. Credit to the guys for keeping their heads on straight and going back to work every day.
 
On two-way wing play…
 
I think the big thing for us was getting the first goal tonight. Houston’s a team where, if they get the first goal, they can sit back and counter and they have some real speed on the wings. Us getting the first goal tonight kind of put them in a situation that they weren’t comfortable with, and that was crucial for us. The last 40, the last 45 [minutes] we had to track back quite a bit, but that’s because we put so much into the first 35, 40. We just played Saturday, I think you saw a bit of heavy legs from that, and that’s going to happen. We gave ourselves that cushion being 2-0 up, so that was crucial for us.
 
On keeping the team’s momentum going…
 
Don’t get complacent. You know the feeling of what a win does for this team, and we just have to keep coming out and doing that every night. We have another home game [on Saturday], we’ve been good at home the past two games. Another three points on the line here.
 
On defeating the top team in the Western Conference standings…
 
It’s early in the year. If you were to look at what the standings were last year, Seattle was probably at the bottom and they end up winning, making a late run. We were at the top and kind of fell off. I’d rather be a team that has a rough start and gets hot at the end of the year. We’re looking to keep this going. It’s early in the year. Those standings will change quite a bit.
 
 
Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Andre Blake
 
On his performance tonight…
 
I got in there, I did my job, all the guys we stopped together, we defended well and we got a few chances and scored two goals, it was good.
 
On the play where he was down for a moment…
 
He made a run. It was a good ball over, so I was just reading that. If he doesn’t get to it, I have to be there, and if he does get there, I have to be there so he doesn’t have time to think about it and it turns out I was able to make the play, so that is good.
 
On four straight shutouts…
 
I don’t want to talk about it too much (laughs) but it is good, all 11 guys are starting to believe that everyone has to defend and it has been going great for us. We just have to stay on the guys to remind them that once everyone defends and everyone fights together then we are always close and we are always in the game.
 
On his 50th appearance…
 
Yeah, I didn’t know about that also, obviously every time we win a game it is great and again I want to say congratulations to all the guys.
 
 
Philadelphia Union midfielder Fafa Picault
 
On his goal…
 
It was a good cross by Chris [Pontius] and I can jump, so I just jumped and knocked it in.
 
On sticking together through the tough times…
 
For us it is normal, it is our team, so it’s important we stick together. We work together, we see each other every day, so it’s up to us to not be bothered with whatever noise is coming from outside and whatever critics are coming. We just have to do our job and we knew the time was going to come where we could turn things around.  We have the talent and the work ethic; we work really hard throughout the week, so it’s starting to show in the results and we just need to keep it going.
 
On the team’s recent offensive surge…
 
We had a lot of new players, so I guess it was just a question of gelling.  We are gelling a lot better now.  Players are understanding their roles better and it is just working out.
 
On his relationship with Ilsinho at the 10…
 
It is good. He is a good player.  I just have to do my job and move off the ball.  He can pass and he can dribble, so that takes a lot of tension off. Sometimes he will dribble and free up a space by beating somebody and then you can just move off the ball and he will play it.  It works out, it works out really well.
 
On the two-way wing play…
 
It was definitely difficult at times; we have a lot of defensive work to do.  Once the game gets going and you start to feel out the team and see the tendencies, it becomes easier and easier. There is a lot of communication throughout the team during the game, so we know what we have to do, we just have to get out there and do it, whether it is harder or easier, we just get it done.
 
 
Houston Dynamo head coach Wilmer Cabrera
 
On the game…
 
We have to do better, especially in the first half. We have to go better. Our mentality wasn't good enough. For a team that has been so good at home, we need to get better and we to demand more of ourselves. Especially with the performance in the first half. Now, take measurements to go because in 72 hours were going to be playing against Atlanta, which is a tough game.
 
On not finishing despite strong second half…
 
We have to play more composed. If we score one goal, the game changes in aspects but we couldn't. When you don't score it's good for the other team. We created chances. We didn't finish and that's something that is happening away but it's not happening at home. We don't have to panic but we have to make better adjustments because first we shouldn't be giving up two goals in the first half then we have to start chasing. That's something we have to do better.
 
Thoughts on possible issues…
 
We've been having some difficulties but we're not talking about that. We're not going to make excuses. We have to face ourselves and we have to sort that out because we have a roster of 20, 25 players and we all need to be responsible. We need to do better, as team, and we cannot let our team down in the first half and then react very well but it's too late. In this league you cannot give up 45 minutes and two goals.
 
What he told Joseph Holland before he made his MLS debut in the second half…
 
I told him 'bring energy, bring no fear and not too much respect for the opponent and just go, try to play, try to find solutions.' It was good. It was positive for first time. It was important for him, important the team because now we can think about him more often.
 
 
Houston Dynamo midfielder Joseph Holland
 
Thoughts on result and debut…
 
Obviously it's nice to play but frustrating that it's on the end of a loss. It's good that I come off and got that monkey off my back and try to get more playing time.
 
Thoughts on coaches confidence in him…
 
You can see a player in practice all you want, you can see a player different division all you want but it doesn't compare to the real thing to play in a MLS game. Of course as coach, you need to see a player in that environment to be able to know you can trust him. I'm happy that I was able to contain the ball when I got it to show he can use me when he needs to in a MLS game.
 
What Wilmer Cabrera told him before he entered the match…
 
He just said 'play with some freedom. 14 minutes out there, I trust to you and play with some freedom.' It was great to hear that.
 
 
Houston Dynamo forward Romell Quioto
 
On changing his team’s mindset rapidly…
 
We don’t have many days before we have to face Atlanta. We have to keep on improving; try to fix the mistakes we made, so that we don’t commit them again against Atlanta and get a good result.
 
On what the Union try to do to stop Houston in the second half…
 
In the second half we were a very different team, because on the first couple of minutes we weren’t fully there and they scored two goals. As I said, we are to keep working in this couple of days so that we can improve and not commit the same mistakes.
 
On what he would like to see differently from the Dynamo…
 
What we need to improve is on the defense; the whole team has to try to defend better and also be better offensively in order to create chances.
 
On his takeaways from this game…
 
Our takeaway is that the away games are not easy. We have to get on the field concentrated.

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