CHESTER, Pa. — For as long as the D.C. United-Philadelphia Union rivalry has existed, Chris Pontius has been a part of it.
He started and played a full 90 minutes for the inaugural meeting in 2010 when Sebastien Le Toux’s hat trick lifted the Union to a 3-2 win at Lincoln Financial Field in the franchise’s first-ever home game.
He found the back of the net in D.C.-Philly clashes in 2012 and 2015.
And he was right in the middle of some of the rash challenges and verbal altercations that came to define some of the early years of the rivalry.
But something will be different when Pontius takes the field at Talen Energy Stadium on Friday night when the rivalry resumes for the 2016 season.
He’ll be on the other side of it.
“It’s always been very emotional, very dramatic, very chippy,” said Pontius, who was traded to the Union this past offseason after spending his first seven years in D.C. “It’s usually good for a PK or a red card of both. It’s been a fun rivalry, and I’m looking forward to being on the other side of things now.”
Pontius, of course, won’t be the first player to go up against his former team. But considering he got his professional start with D.C. and had been there for so long, the winger admitted Friday’s Rivalry Week contest will be an “emotional” one nonetheless.
On Wednesday, Union head coach Jim Curtin made sure to have a chat with Pontius about doing his best to control those emotions.
“Yes, he wears a different jersey now but I just told him to do exactly what he’s been doing,” Curtin said. “Don’t try to do too much, don’t try to do too little, just be Chris Pontius and that will take care of itself.
“You know, he just wants to win — at the end of the day, it’s about getting three points. I hope he plays a big role in that with a goal or an assist but if he continues to do the same things that he’s done, that’s all I can ask for him as a coach.
“He’s been excellent for us. Our staff has been so impressed with how he carries himself. He’s a winner — and hopefully it carries over on Friday night.”
Pontius has certainly enjoyed a good first season in Philly so far, bagging four goals and two assists to move past some of the injuries that plagued his final few seasons in D.C. and helping the Union get off to a 4-3-3 start — all while meshing perfectly with his new teammates.
More than anything, that will help him feel at home and brush aside any weird feelings from not wearing the D.C. jersey Friday.
“I just think it makes it better that I’m comfortable with these guys,” Pontius said. “That’s the comfort for me. I’ve been to battle with these guys a number of times. I’ve played at Talen Energy Stadium and I feel comfortable there now.”
Pontius admitted it will still be strange going back to RFK Stadium for the first time since the trade (on Aug. 6). And although his allegiances have changed, he’s remained good friends with several players on the D.C. United team, including Sean Franklin, Steve Birnbaum, Taylor Kemp and Bobby Boswell.
But he added that he got some of the “butterflies out” when the two teams met in the preseason. That, he hopes, will help him be able to treat Friday’s game like any other.
“It’s another game, another battle,” he said. “Once you get on the field, you’ve gotta focus on the task at hand.”
And given past history, the game figures to be another heated, dramatic one, as it usually is when these two teams take the field.
That’s the way Pontius likes it — back when he was playing against Philly and now that he’s playing for Philly too.
“In terms of if you’re a fan of the game and if you watch it, it’s an entertaining game,” he said. “That’s what you want. It’s better than a game that, when you tune in, it seems like there’s no emotion. As a fan, you want to see these types of games.
“And as a player, you enjoy it too,” he added. “You don’t want to shy away from these types of games.”