In Philadelphia Union’s preseason opener against Atlanta United FC, four homegrown players not only got the start but went the full 90 minutes. While head coach Jim Curtin said some of those playing decisions were made out of necessity due to numbers, the start for Anthony Fontana could be a sign of what is to come for the midfielder.
"Anthony is a guy that we’re going to lean on more for minutes, whether it’s at the No. 8 or 10 spot,” Curtin said during his midweek press conference call with media. “He has shown that he can really score goals in training and now that needs to translate to goals in games.”
Union fans recall the first goal of Fontana’s career, the winner in his Major League Soccer debut against New England Revolution in the 2018 season opener. Since that moment, however, the 20-year-old has been fighting to lock down a spot in the Union’s starting XI as Borek Dockal, Marco Fabian, Jamiro Monteiro and fellow homegrown Brenden Aaronson have earned minutes in the No. 10 role. While he hasn’t started matches for the Union, Fontana has been making strides that fans might not have seen during the club’s postseason push.
"He really came on for us at the end of last year and went out and played every day in training and played with no fear,” the head coach said. “He took a big step last season and every player is going to have these highs and lows in their development. He’s been good in preseason and we want that to carry over into the season.”
Only 20, Fontana is in his third season and at a point in his career where he wants to take a step forward. What role he can take on, though, depends on his development in a few areas.
"He’s shown that he can cover ground and do the work defensively,” Curtin said. “Goalscoring midfielders are really, really hard to find in MLS and he has a knack for that and that’s why I do like him at the No. 10 because he is closer to the goal. But he will continue to learn and to improve the defensive side of the ball so he can fill in at the No. 8 as well. He’s a guy that is pushing to be in the starting lineup and I don’t say that to put pressure on him but to show that I believe in him.
With Brenden Aaronson alongside him in the locker room, fans and media will draw quick comparisons between the two homegrowns. Both scored in their MLS debuts and both started their first matches at the No. 10 spot. For Curtin, however, the two high-upside prospects are on their own paths.
"Comparing players is always tricky so I don’t want to go too over the top but I think if we are doing our job developing Anthony the right way then he skews more to Alejandro Bedoya’s type of game where he can add the offensive pieces but because of his work rate and ability to run, he’s really a two-way player.”