Chris Pontius has some unfinished business at UCSB, and he’s taking care of it these days — years after making a promise to his mother.
Pontius was one of the greatest soccer players to ever set foot on the UCSB campus. As a player from 2005-08, he helped lead the men’s program to the 2006 national championship. He went on and enjoyed a highly successful career in Major League Soccer, playing for D.C United, the Philadelphia Union and the L.A. Galaxy.
Pontius never finished his degree, even though he was close. The Yorba Linda native was forced to leave early after realizing a childhood dream of playing professional soccer.
Pontius was drafted in the first round (seventh overall) by D.C United in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft. There was no question that he was leaving school early after being drafted, but he never forgot what his mother had asked him to do some day when his playing career was over.
“I was on schedule to graduate, I only had two quarters left, but I made a promise to my mom that I would finish once I was done (with soccer),” Pontius said. “That promise became more of a promise to myself after a while.
“You view life a little differently as you get older and more mature.”
Pontius also joked about a little pressure coming from his own home to get that diploma at UCSB.
“My wife has two degrees, so I can’t tell our kids someday that mom has two degrees and dad has none,” Pontius said with a grin. “It’s not easy, especially working with the agency and then coming back up here. I’ve been away from school for so long, which also makes it a little difficult. But it’s 10 weeks, you can kind of do anything for 10 weeks. It’ll be so rewarding when it is done.”
After retiring from Major League Soccer on Oct. 29, Pontius, who tallied 12 goals for D.C. United in 2012 and 12 for Philadelphia in 2016, joined the Wasserman Media Group as an agent for professional players.
He holds that job while also finishing as a student at UCSB.
“The reason I became an agent is because I’ve seen the agency business done right by the people who represented me, but I’ve also seen a lot of other players get screwed because of agents doing shady business,” Pontius said. “I wanted to represent players, players who I believe in, and help them achieve their dreams. I wanted to do it in the right way.”
Pontius, who was named Major League Soccer’s Comeback Player of the Year in 2016 after dealing with serious hamstring injuries in prior years, was an integral part of the Gaucho team that stunned the college soccer world by winning the 2006 national championship.
In some respects, that team had no business even getting to the postseason. UCSB dropped to 7-6 after a forgettable loss at UC Riverside. Things looked so dire after that loss at Riverside that coach Tim Vom Steeg told some of his players to shut it down and get the medical treatment they needed that would likely end their season.
But Pontius and his teammates didn’t let that happen. They came together in the 11th hour and never lost a game the rest of the way.
“We didn’t let it end,” Pontius said. “I think a lot of egos had to get checked at that moment. We thought we were better than we were. We knew we had talent, and so that’s where the egos came from.
“There was talent there, but those egos needed to be checked at the door. Our guys needed to buy into a system, and I think that’s what you saw happen. Confidence is a beautiful thing. When you start winning games, you almost feel like you can’t lose. We carried that into the playoffs, which was a beautiful thing. You’d rather be 7-6 and win your last seven games to get into the playoffs than be 9-0, lose your last six, get into the playoffs, but now you’re on a bad run. Who’s the more dangerous team to face in the playoffs?”
Pontius is helping out the team during its winter training sessions while he’s up here from Los Angeles for classes.
Vom Steeg is very pleased he’s back to finish school, like a lot of his other players have done in the past.
“The key is they see the finish line,” Vom Steeg said. “That’s always been the goal for us. The goal for us, even with our most talented players, is if we can get them looking at the finish of their degree, then we find that most of them will find their way back.
“It doesn’t always have to be UCSB. They may end up somewhere where they have to finish their degree wherever they are, but at least they’re getting their college degree.”
Pontius, who also played for the U.S. National Team, is getting his degree at the age of 32.
“He made good money in the MLS, but it’s not life-changing money where you can stop working at age 34 or 35,” Vom Steeg said. “That list of American players who can do that is probably on one hand. It’s great to have him back and it’s good that he sees how the degree fits into his next steps in life. We’re happy to help him out.”