The 2020 season provided a glimpse into what Anthony Fontana can offer the Philadelphia Union, as the homegrown midfielder scored six goals in just over 500 minutes played.
Now, after the Union transferred Best XI selection Brenden Aaronson to Austrian club Red Bull Salzburg, the 21-year-old Delaware native seems primed for bigger contributions. And head coach Jim Curtin confirmed as much during a virtual media availability earlier this week, noting it’s one homegrown filling the space vacated by what’s sure to be the first of many overseas moves from the club's academy-focused approach.
“Anthony certainly, like I said before, we’re going to give the keys to,” Curtin said. “He’s done a good job so far in the preseason.”
As Philadelphia showed during their Supporters’ Shield-winning run last year, their system has some flexibility in the final third. It’s why Curtin noted Cape Verdean midfielder Jamiro Monteiro, the club’s sole Designated Player, could slot centrally at times as well.
GOAL: Anthony Fontana, Philadelphia Union - 95th minute
Those intricacies will work themselves out through preseason, with Philadelphia currently in Clearwater, Fla., for a series of friendlies. They’ll face Costa Rican side Saprissa April 7 (away) and April 14 (home) in a Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 series before kicking off their 2021 MLS season April 18 at Columbus Crew SC, the defending MLS Cup champions.
“Still working on some things, but overall happy with where he is,” Curtin said of Fontana. “And yes, right now he’s in that position for the No. 10. Obviously like I said, though, Jamiro, it can look like two 10s at times. We’re working with him to get him on the ball as much as possible as well because he’s such a special player.”
Heading into his fourth professional season, Fontana has eight goals and one assist through 30 matches. He's logged just 726 minutes, a small sample size that realistically could triple this year as Curtin’s reliance on the attacking midfielder grows. Before this homegrown focus, Philadelphia turned to more high-priced imports like Marco Fabian and Borek Dockal in attacking midfield spots to varying degrees of success.
Fontana and Aaronson are different players, too, so it's not exactly a like-for-like replacement. Fontana is more direct and willing to shoot, as his goal-record from 2020 suggests, which could certainly draw international suitors if his production continues at a similar rate. Curtin, though, stressed that he remained a work in progress.
“We’re still working with him on when is it right to just stay where you’re open, because he has a tendency to run all over and kind of search for the ball and get touches on it,” Curtin said. “Our stressing to him now is, I’d rather him touch the ball two or three times a half in a really, really dangerous position that sets up a goal where he’s dangerous than have him come back just to lay balls back to our center backs and get touches that way. He’s done a good job."