By THOMAS FLOYD
When D.C. United captain Josh Wolff reaggravated a hamstring injury in the first half of a friendly against Everton on Saturday, coach Ben Olsen looked to a bench that had no natural forwards on it and opted for a throwback, inserting winger Chris Pontius up top.
Aside from a few minutes here and there, Pontius had not played forward in more than a year, since the opening matches of United's 2010 season under then-coach Curt Onalfo. The third-year player, however, excelled in his 54 minutes playing there against Everton, scoring off a Dwayne De Rosario feed in the 47th minute and looking perpetually dangerous during the 3-1 D.C. loss.
"I enjoyed it up there," Pontius said. "I thought I got some good looks, and I was able to get on the end of one."
United has just four natural forwards on its roster — Wolff, Charlie Davies, Joseph Ngwenya and Blake Brettschneider. But with Davies (knee inflammation) and Wolff questionable for Saturday's match at San Jose, and Brettschneider just back from a concussion, Pontius could start at striker this weekend.
"Chris doesn't usually play up top, but I thought he did very well," De Rosario said. "With the runs he was looking for, he moved like a forward."
Here are some more notes from around the Eastern Conference:
When defender Pari Pantazopolous took the field to play Manchester United during Chicago's 3-1 loss Saturday, it marked another unlikely step forward for a player who earned a roster spot with the Fire during the preseason via the team's open tryout process.
"It's a huge journey for me," Pantazopolous said to MLSsoccer.com. "To start from the open tryout … it's just unbelievable. To have that feeling, you in front of 60,000 fans, it's awesome to be part of the team, to watch the best guys in the world and play the best players in the world."
Newcastle United defeated Columbus 3-0 on Tuesday at Crew Stadium on goals from Shola Amoebi, Fabricio Colocinni and Haris Vukcic.
The Crew played the entire second half shorthanded after goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum received a red card for intentionally handling the ball outside his penalty area. With starter Will Hesmer and third-stringer Alex Riggs not dressed for Columbus, MLS pool goalkeeper Chris Konopka filled in between the posts.
One of the more unlikely All-Star selections this year was defender Corey Ashe, a former midfielder who filled in at left back for an early-season match at New York to help Houston cope with Dane Richards' speed and never let go of the position.
"You look at Corey now, and consistently he's been one of our best players defensively," Houston and MLS All-Star teammate Geoff Cameron said to the Houston Chronicle. "He gets forward, gives balls in the box, and he creates things. He can get himself out of pressure and keep possession at the same time."
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION
Just when it looked like the Revolution was a lost cause for the 2011 MLS campaign, New England picked up a win at D.C. United and a draw at Colorado to climb within six points of the final playoff position. To Revolution All-Star Shalrie Joseph, New England needed those two results "badly."
"It definitely put a smile on my face getting four points on that last road trip," Joseph told MLSsoccer.com. "Hopefully, we can make a run during the second part of the season."
NEW YORK RED BULLS
Playing in his first MLS All-Star Game tonight, defender Tim Ream is confident that coach Hans Backe's squad has what it takes to avenge last year's loss to Manchester United and down the Red Devils at Red Bull Arena.
"We want to put on a good performance to show United and the world the talent that our league has to offer," Ream wrote on his New York Times blog. "They’ve been on a good roll and we want to put a stop to that. Everyone is prepared and we have gelled well and think we have what it’s going to take to beat them."
Possibly getting the start between the posts for the MLS All-Stars tonight will be goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon, a veteran whose organizational savvy has helped Philadelphia's defense become one of the league's best unitsafter it struggled mightily in 2010 with Chris Seitz and Brad Knighton in goal.
"The best aspect is that he has provided veteran leadership in that position, where last year we had young players there," Union assistant coach John Hackworth said to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
SPORTING KANSAS CITY
When the MLS All-Stars and Manchester United dined at New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's house Monday, defender Matt Besler found himself seated next to Ryan Giggs and Nemanja Vidic. Needless to say, Besler found the experience "a little surreal."
"But at the same time, it gets me excited," Besler said to the Kansas City Star. "It hasn't all really sunk in yet, but I'm sure when I have a chance to sit back and think about it, all this will seem unbelievable."
At 3-11-9, this MLS season appears to be a lost cause for Toronto FC. But the team remains committed to its long-term plan to embrace a 4-3-3 system nonetheless.
"You need the whole team defending and you need the whole team attacking," assistant coach Bob de Krek told the National Post. "It is as simple as that … but if you’re not used to playing in the 4-3-3 system, then there are moments when you’re waiting [for something] to happen and then you are too late."