July 17, 2017 will be a day that Anthony Fontana will never forget.
Just a few days earlier, Fontana made his Union debut, subbing into the team’s international friendly against Swansea City AFC. Two days later, he officially became a member of the Philadelphia Union first team when he signed a homegrown contract.
Fontana represented the third player the Union signed who graduated from the Union Academy. It also fulfilled one of his lifelong dreams.
Fontana grew up in the Delaware Valley, as he was born in Newark, Delaware. Despite growing up in Delaware, Fontana grew up playing for Penn Fusion, which resulted in an hour drive one way for each practice and game. Fontana also played for West Chester and Kirkwood SC in his youth. But in 2010, he found his permanent team.
Growing up in a soccer family, when MLS announced Philadelphia was getting a team, Fontana was understandably excited. When the Union Juniors program started in 2010, Fontana became an inaugural member. In 2013, when the Union launched its Academy in partnership with YSC Academy, he once again became a founding member.
Joining the Union and YSC Academy ended up being one of the best decisions Fontana made. While at YSC Academy, Fontana continued to get a first-rate education. But he also got a great deal of soccer experience. He quickly became a star for his youth teams, and in 2016, he started getting playing time with Bethlehem Steel FC.
“I saw him as this young kid from Delaware who would dribble and go at the goal with fearlessness that really caught the eye,” said Head Coach Jim Curtin.
In 2016, Fontana played eight matches for Steel FC, starting two. His first appearance came in July, where he played 17 minutes against FC Cincinnati. 2017 saw an improvement for Fontana, as he played 11 games for Bethlehem. He made 11 appearances, started 7, and played more than 650 minutes.
“With Bethlehem Steel and training with the first team, he looks in place every single time,” said Sporting Director Earnie Stewart. “That is really good and really unique.”
With his success against USL competition, the Union technical staff rewarded Fontana with his first Union appearance against Swansea. Fontana, growing up a fan of the Union and taking trips to Talen Energy Stadium as a fan, got to run onto the pitch as a player in front of friends and family.
Fontana played 14 minutes in the match, at just 17-years-old. During those 14 minutes, Fontana played with a smile on his face. He even took a shot from the top of the box which looked like could find the back of the net for his first professional goal. But it went over the net, much to the dismay of the 16,000 in attendance.
"It was amazing," Fontana said. "Playing against a Premier League team, and just going out in front of all of our fans, just an amazing night. The players told me to just go out there and have fun, and that's exactly what I did. Playing here at home, playing in front of people you know and seeing faces in the crowd and having everyone look at you, it's just an amazing feeling."
Two days later, Fontana signed his homegrown contract, where he joins the Union first team on January 1, 2018. By signing his contract, he became just the second MLS player ever from Delaware, and the first to play for the Union.
“I couldn't have done it without the whole organization,” Fontana said. “Earnie Stewart, Richie Graham, Tommy Wilson and Jim Curtin, they all played a big part in my development."
By signing his contract, Fontana realized another part of his dream. He had already made an appearance for the Union, and with his contract, he officially became a member of the organization. But now it’s about sticking with the team and making an impact for years to come.
“To see Anthony sign his contract was very exciting,” Stewart said. “We stand for giving talent chances and young kids chances, so very exciting.”
Even with his contract, Fontana still needed to finish his education. He stuck with the YSC Academy and will graduate and the end of the school year. It’s tough for an 18-year-old to focus on school, especially when he’s a professional soccer player, but because of YSC Academy and the partnership with the Union, it’s just another step on his journey.
In 2018, Fontana will compete for a spot on the Union’s roster and will continue to try and make an impact with the Union. 2017 was a whirlwind for the Delaware native, but it was something Fontana will never forget.
“I'm just looking to keep improving every day," Fontana said. "Keep improving areas of my game that aren't as strong as others, keep improving in areas where I am strong. Hopefully I'll break the starting XI in the future and get games with the first team. Lots of good times to come."