Every year there's at least one guy left off the overall 22 Under 22 list whose absence raises some eyebrows. This year, that distinction goes to Philadelphia Union Homegrown No. 10 Anthony Fontana, who has come out off nowhere to score six goals in 440 minutes for one of the best teams in the league, most of them within the past month. With that kind of hit rate... where is he?
Full disclosure: Fontana was 23rd on my personal 22 Under 22 list. The perception — mine and others' — of the 21-year-old is that he only does one thing (score goals) and is currently doing so at an unsustainable rate. It's a bit of fool's gold: He is good, but not this good. The kid scored just once in 49 USL appearances, and while part of that comes down to role (he wasn't playing only as a 10 for the Bethlehem Steel/Union 2), not all of it comes down to his role. If he was the transcendent goalscorer he appears to be in MLS, you'd have expected to see more during his USL days.
Now, while his current goalscoring is unsustainable (he has 6g on 2.2 xG as per Opta), the fact is that finding 2.2 xG worth of chances over the course of ~5 games is actually elite for a central midfielder. As Jim Curtin said after this past weekend's win over New England, Fontana's ability to make those deep, well-timed runs makes him a weapon. As long as the team is able to create the type of situations where those chances are generated, those runs will be valuable, hence Fontana will be valuable even if he doesn't add a single other thing to his game:
That is a gorgeous finish, but the run to get into that spot in the first place is eye-popping. As long as you've got teammates who can play the final ball, anyway.
To that end, the world of soccer is replete with players who look great when asked to pick their spots while surrounded by excellent players, but who have struggled when ask to be the focal point of lesser teams. We are closing in on a pretty good sample size that suggests Fontana is, for now, exactly that type of player.
But in order for him to become an actual star, he's got to become more than just a brilliant goal-poacher. At the moment he doesn't beat players off the dribble, is a below-average chance creator (only four key passes in 440 minutes as an attacking midfielder is, uh, not great!), and is an "adequate" at best defensive presence. It is obvious that more work needs to be done.
The good news for Fontana? Goals are the most valuable currency in the game, and as long as he's scoring them, he'll get the playing time necessary to work on the other stuff. At which point, maybe stardom really does await, even if it comes after his 22 Under 22 eligibility has expired.