Imagine you are the first player to progress all the way from a soccer club’s junior level through the full academy and onto the first team. Contract signed. First league start, first league goal scored. First US Open Cup start, first US Open Cup goal scored.
Now imagine that you did it all before you finished high school, but now it’s time to graduate. And you have to give a speech.
What do you say?
“I’m going to write it now,” Anthony Fontana says on Wednesday. “I’ve been doing other stuff. Today it’s time to grind. So come Friday, hopefully, it’s decent.”
Fontana was the Union’s sixth homegrown signing when he put pen to paper last year on a contract that came into effect on January 1, 2018. But he is the first homegrown player to make the trek all the way from the juniors level to the first team, and that means he stands out to players currently in the Union Academy as someone that blazed the trail they want to follow.
“He’s going to kill me for saying this,” Union head coach Jim Curtin says, “But I just remember this little pudgy kid from Delaware with amazing feet, a real talent, and you could see he had a passion for the game. Anthony’s feet and desire to be on the ball, making incredible offensive plays, you could see it at age 10.”
When Fontana is named as one of the 18 players that suits up on gameday, or when he starts, as he did in the Union’s season opener this year, he is a guiding light for an entire school of young men that dream of playing soccer at the highest level. Perhaps they want to be MLS stars, perhaps their eyes are on European glory, but either way they can see in Fontana someone who has earned the right to be on television screens across the country, and maybe even abroad.
“I know younger kids, when I go now [to the Union academy] are like, ‘That’s Anthony Fontana! That’s cool!’,” Fontana laughs.
But for those that came through the ranks with him, there is no fawning, no adulation. “I still have a lot of friends there; it’s a family there,” Fontana smiles. “It’s more just friendly conversations, kids being kids, messing around. They don’t treat me any different. It’s cool.”
The Union’s young midfielder also has fond memories of interacting with the staff and coaches at the academy. “The more I think back on the last four years of high school, I think ‘Man, there’s been a lot of time put into this.' Me, the coaches, the whole staff, the Union staff here, obviously,” he shakes his head. “I’ve had a bit of time to reflect and just appreciate everything.”
Another thing Fontana has to reflect about on graduation day is a match against Toronto FC that night.
That’s right -- Fontana will graduate high school in the morning and potentially play against the defending MLS champions that same evening. Even so, he could not skip the graduation ceremony. A large contingent of Fontana supporters will make sure of that.
“I have so many people coming,” the teenager shakes his head. “I told them not to… I don’t want it to be this big thing, but obviously they’re going to make it a big thing. It’ll be my whole family, and they’ll be out there supporting me.”
So will his current head coach. “This is just one step in in his career now,” Curtin says. “To see him come through our academy, play some really good games for the Steel, and now impact the first team as a starter and do really well is something that’s really special, and I think the kid has an incredible future ahead of him.”
Fontana agrees that his path has been special both for him and the club he represents. “I do think it’s pretty cool that I’m the first kid that’s graduating as a Union player,” he reflects. “That’s cool for me. I want to be there, and just kind of thank everyone that has helped me along the journey. They put in so much time, so that’s the least I could do. Show up for one last hurrah.”
But before the hurrah, there is that speech, still to be written.
Will anyone see it before they hear it live on Friday?
“Maybe,” he says. “If anyone, it’ll be my sister.”