Little brother now the center-back of attention
My older brother Greg collected science fiction novels as a kid, so I read history books.
He became obsessed with tennis, so I played baseball.
He likes getting interviewed as a collegiate coach, and so I interview.
I always figured that Yin and Yang must've been Chinese brothers.
But it's not that way for UCSB soccer defender Tim Pontius, the younger sibling of one of the greatest forwards in Gauchos' history.
He's found the light inside the enormous shadow of Major League Soccer star Chris Pontius.
"A lot of people might not like having a shadow over them like that, but I do," said Tim, who will open his senior season tonight in a 7 p.m. exhibition match against Westmont College. "Me and Chris, we talk a lot."
And the conversation often turns to the game they share.
"If anything is going on, and I have questions, I call him up," Tim said. "I take advantage of it. As a forward, he can tell me what I'm doing wrong as a defender. I like having him there for me.
"I envy him for what he's done here and even in the pros, but the relationship we have only helps me."
Chris Pontius, who helped UCSB win an NCAA championship as a sophomore in 2006 and was its leading scorer the following two seasons, is an emerging star for D.C. United. He has seven goals this season and recently received MLS Player of the Week honors after scoring twice in a win over Vancouver.
Brother Tim not only wanted to play soccer like Chris, he wanted to play with him - joining the Gauchos during his brother's senior season of 2008.
"I came here to watch his games here during his first three seasons," Tim said. "That had a lot to do with me coming here, too. I got to know the school, the area, the coaches, the team, and the whole experience with the fans.
"To be honest, that's what made me want to come here - the environment and the atmosphere that this university offers for soccer."
The sons of Richard and Mary Ellen Pontius remain close, and it actually worked to Tim's benefit when D.C. United came to UCSB's Harder Stadium for an exhibition match last February. He helped hold Chris scoreless in a match that United barely won in the 81st minute, 1-0.
"He got the better of me tonight," Chris said afterward. "D.C. needs to sign him up. He played well, he knows all of my moves.
"There's no way he's falling for that cutback anymore."
Chris made every Gaucho match he could last year, in spite of his own playing schedule. He also took Tim into his home this summer so he could work as a marketing intern for D.C. United.
"I got to talk to him a lot," Tim said.
He even got to join in his training with the Under-23 National Team.
"That was fun - it was hot, though," Tim said. "It was 100 degrees playing on turf, and that's not fun. It was very humid. But it was a good experience for me.
"I got to see Chris play two games, too. I got to see the U.S. vs. Jamaica and be involved with the inside stuff."
The 6-foot senior from Orange County's Servite High has the inside track to a starting center-back position, although he's getting challenged by a strong recruiting class. Three transfers are also bidding for the two center-back positions: Junior Juan Gomez from Peru, sophomore Peter Schmetz from Germany, and sophomore Mathew Glodack from New Jersey.
"Tim obviously has the advantage of experience and leadership, but we also have the potential of using him somewhere else," coach Tim Vom Steeg said. "He's played quite a bit at right back.
Pontius came off the bench in 10 matches as a freshman, started six of his 12 contests as a sophomore, and increased that to eight starts in 19 appearances last year.
"Over the years, we've identified parts of his game that have kept him from being more significant," Vom Steeg said. "For him, obviously as a senior, he is going to get the first chance out there. He's one of four players who are all right there."
Foremost among those identified parts, Pontius said, is his distribution of the ball.
"Defensively I was always fine, but it was more connecting passes in the midfield and being better with my feet," he said. "That was always a big question with me. It's also one of the things I've worked hard on, from freshman year until now, and it's paying off."
He made one of the biggest plays of last season when he lept high to head Danny Barrera's corner kick to the feet of freshman David Opoku for the winning goal against then-No. 7 UCLA.
A school-record 15,896 fans at Harder Stadium were seeing a new Pontius arise into the spotlight.
Pontius is expecting bigger things for the Gauchos this season.
"Usually there can be a little divide between the freshmen and the transfers with the veteran players, but from what I've noticed, everyone is getting along, hanging out together," he said. "That's the big thing for us- hanging out outside of soccer.
"Whether it's playing XBox together, or just talking about things, it all translates onto the field. It's about becoming brothers."
He had a good one show him how.
Mark Patton's column appears on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The 2011 men's soccer season gets underway tonight at Meredith Field at Harder Stadium. The Gauchos will host crosstown foe Westmont in a 7 p.m. exhibition match.
GKids is the official kids club of UCSB Athletics available to kids in eighth grade or younger. Members receive the official 2011-12 GKids t-shirt, Olé's Coloring Book and Guide for Being a Gaucho, entry into every regular season soccer, basketball, baseball, softball and volleyball game, and much more! To sign up today, click here.