Photo courtesy of Bethlehem Steel
Anthony Fontana seems to be the leading current candidate to be next home grown player to sign a contract with the Philadelphia Union.
The Union’s Friday’s signing of Jake McGuire means the roster is full right now. But Fontana, the YSC Academy junior and attacking center midfielder, trained with the Philadelphia Union in 2017’s preseason. He is the first Academy player to do so from start to finish.
He will practice in Chester but with whom remains a question. It may be with the Steel or the Union .
Fontana in 2016
Fontana debuted with the Steel last season as a high school sophomore after signing “a zero dollar contract.” It allows him to play with full-time professionals while preserving his NCAA amateur eligibility, and is approved by the NCAA, U. S. Soccer, and FIFA.
With Bethlehem last season, Fontana played 271 minutes, starting three times and appearing as a substitute three other times.
The 16 year-old debut substitute acquitted himself so well enough at FC Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium that he earned the next game’s start, away to Toronto FC II. He became the substitute of choice behind starter James Chambers throughout August until Maurice Edu’s arrival on rehab forced changes.
Fontana started over Chambers away to Louisville and, according to Steel head coach Brendan Burke, more than held his own at the number 10 position against one of the league’s best teams. The Steel came out to play, not bunker, and Fontana was important in that scheme.
The season’s top Fontana vignette came in his start at Toronto. Good technical control allowed him to earn a free kick just outside the Reds’ penalty box, which Ryan Richter took advantage to bring the Steel back into the game.
His 2017 preseason
photo courtesy of YSC Sports
Fontana first appeared this preseason in the last half hour of the closed scrimmage against Chicago as the attacking center mid in front of Adam Najem. He and Najem did the same in the Suncoast Invitational exhibition games against Tampa Bay and Montreal, for about fifteen minutes each match.
More recently, he started in center midfield for the Steel in their preseason scrimmage against Temple playing 60 minutes. Najem started in front of him in the number 10 role, and the two were interchanging positions after the opening quarter of an hour. They did not have to devote a lot of energy defending.
He will probably play 75 minutes in one of this week’s two Thursday scrimmages, at 11:00 am versus Harrisburg or at 2:00 pm against Notre Dame. If he does, that will be the longest appearance of his career.
And in the final preseason scrimmages, Burke will need to find him ninety minutes so he is available to be in the starting eleven against Rochester on April 1st.
The first thing you notice about Fontana on the pitch is that he is fearless.
In his debut, he wasn’t nervous while playing in front of 20,000 spectators at FC Cincinnati or 8,000 in Kentucky. The Chicago Fire reserves did not subdue him, nor did Tampa Bay’s or Montreal’s. Temple had trouble keeping up with him.
His play is relentless, constant and non-stop. He makes deep, intelligent offensive runs and always looks for the green space behind the opposition’s back line.
Technically, his skill set is suited for his position. His first instincts are to outwork his opponent and use his athleticism to his benefit. He can beat defenders one-on-one, but becoming better at that should be a future goal.
He needs in-game experience reading the tactical schemes of the opposition and their in-game adjustments. Since there are tactically sophisticated coaches in USL, he will get that this season with the Steel.
An important indication of how the organization assesses him may come from the status of Steel trialist central midfielder Duane Muckett, a good player to keep were the Steel’s roster not as budget-constrained as we all presume it to be.
But if Muckett were to make the Steel, he would compete with Fontana and Najem for playing time in the midfield’s central channel. And that might suggest Fontana needs more time. Of course the organization has it as it has until August 1 of 2018 to decide whether to sign him before college.