CARSON, Calif. – The 2018 regular season certainly didn’t end on the most positive of notes for the LA Galaxy’s Chris Pontius.
Not only did the club miss the MLS Cup playoffs for the second year in a row, but the veteran midfielder and native of Yorba Linda missed the team’s final seven matches and underwent bilateral hernia surgery.
All was not lost for the 31-year-old, however. He was working out again in six weeks, he got married and a new coaching staff headed by former MLS Most Valuable Player Guillermo Barros Schelotto was brought in to help resuscitate the five-time MLS Cup champions.
And just in case anyone had lingering doubts about Pontius’ recovery, he was one of only two Galaxy players – the other being goalkeeper David Bingham – to go the full 90 minutes in Saturday’s 1-1 preseason tie with Toronto FC at Dignity Health Sports Park.
“I don’t think it was planned until Ola (Kamara) came down with a sickness,” he said of his teammate who reportedly came down with a high fever and was kept out of the match as a precaution. “It wasn’t a game that was at what you would say was mid-season level, but it was a little easier to manage.
“It was tough on the legs, but we’ve done a lot of fitness and I feel pretty good.”
Pontius played mostly on the wing last season but was seen in a more centralized position on several occasions Saturday. He even came close to scoring, once in the 14th minute when he just missed heading in a pass from Jonathan dos Santos and again in the 51st on a cross from Rolf Feltscher that was right in front of the Toronto net.
Could Pontius be in more of an attacking role in 2019? It’s hard to say, he pointed out. But he’ll be ready if it comes to that.
“Kind of in my career I’ve been playing a little bit of everything, so even back into my college days,” the former UC Santa Barbara standout said. “It’s just a new challenge. To be honest the only difference is the way we play. We’re still trying to learn and adapt to what the coach wants, and that will be a process.
“It’s OK. When you have talented players around you, it can make it a little easier on you.”
GIVETH, TAKETH AWAY
Feltscher thought he had scored the Galaxy’s only goal in the 55th minute Saturday, but it officially was credited as an own goal by Toronto’s Terique Mohammed.
Feltscher appeared to have headed in a cross from Romain Alessandrini, but replays showed the ball glanced off his head and then off Mohammed into the Toronto net. Feltscher was unaware of the scoring change until reporters told him after the match.
“Yeah, but they were (announcing) my name,” he said with a grin. “That’s fine. I touched the ball. My hair touched it a little bit.”
Saturday’s official preseason opener – the Galaxy defeated Japanese side Vissel Kobe 4-1 in a scrimmage four days earlier – afforded Feltscher his first chance to play alongside new teammate Diego Polenta, and he liked what he saw.
“He fits in very good. He’s training well,” he said of the Uruguayan central defender. “We need him, like we need everybody. We are happy to have him here.
“Diego brings a lot of experience. He’s a physical player and has a good left foot. He gives us a lot of security.”
Feltscher said he was confident the Galaxy’s defense will be much improved from last season, when it allowed 64 goals, fourth-most in the Western Conference.
“Yeah, of course. We must,” he said. “This is our first point in training to get better, and we will. For sure.”
Pontius was just as optimistic.
“I don’t think we can give up many more goals than we gave up last year,” he said with a laugh. “I think it’s safe to say we’ll give up less goals.”
Pregame lineups incorrectly listed Polenta as the team captain, but the armband instead went to Jonathan dos Santos.
Ashley Cole held the captain’s role a year ago, but he’s no longer with the team, having signed with English side Derby County. Schelotto said Zlatan Ibrahimovic likely will assume those duties this season.
“I think the captain is Ibra [ Ibrahimovic], but Jona [Jonathan dos Santos] is vice,” he said. “And it is also possible that Romain [Alessandrani] too, but it’s more important that they feel like a captain.“Everyone … Romain, Jona, Ibra in the field and try to help the team.”