Press Conference / Union

After Fontana’s dream debut, how can Curtin hit snooze?

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin opened his weekly press conference at Talen Energy Stadium by summing up the first match of the season: “It was a special night for the club in a lot of different ways.”

Obviously, one of the ways it was special was the three points the Union collected: It was only the second time the franchise has recorded a win in the first match of the season.

There was also the manner in which the victory came, on the backs of two homegrown players who’ve proved themselves at each level of the organization.

Much praise for Anthony Fontana and Auston Trusty has already been written this week. There is genuine excitement surrounding both kids. But for the goalscorer, the excitement may not ink his name into the first eleven.

“Borek [Dockal] has been brought in to start,” said Curtin.

His role in the squad is a truth that’s been known since the official confirmation that the Czech No. 10 would be the Union’s newest Designated Player. The Czech playmaker — on a Designated Player contract — was not acquired to share time with an 18-year-old with one start in MLS. Despite Fontana’s promising debut, he will be second choice to the 29-year-old Dockal this season unless something changes drastically and unexpectedly.

The obvious question: What becomes of Fontana?

Curtin hinted at an answer for the short term. “I don’t think Borek is going to be ready for 90 minutes right off the bat.” He continued, “Anthony Fontana will get his share of time, for anyone wondering about that.”

More intriguing, though, is where those minutes might come from in the long term. When asked about finding time for Fontana, Curtin’s initial response was revealing.

“Anthony is a guy, if you ask him his position, it’s the No. 8. He has characteristics of an attack-minded No. 8.”

The competition isn’t any less daunting at that place on the pitch, currently manned by captain Alejandro Bedoya. It does show, though, that Fontana’s options won’t be limited to one midfield position.

And Fontana definitely needs time on the field. Curtin still had critiques of the youngster’s performance. He often dropped too deep, playing between the center backs and overlapping responsibilities with Bedoya.

“We need that No. 10 higher up the field,” Curtin observed. “I’d rather him play eight throughballs and have seven of them get picked off and one connect, than play a bunch square and backward.”

Fontana’s time will come, but for now his minutes may be sporadic. Three international captains man the midfield triangle in Philadelphia. In a few years, though, it wouldn’t be a stretch to think Fontana will be lining up next to fellow homegrown Derrick Jones at the No. 6 — with Academy product Brenden Aaronson at the No. 10.

Quick Hits
  • Ilsinho is getting closer to the field. Curtin said the Brazilian midfielder “responded to a PRP injection. He’ll be back with the group training next week.”
  • How will the Union stay sharp during the bye week? “We’ve treated this week as a week of fitness,” said Curtin. The club scheduled games this weekend against USL sides Bethlehem Steel and New York Red Bulls II.
  • Why do the Union have a bye? MLS’s desire for success in the CONCACAF Champions League. The schedule-makers, said Curtin, “want to set our teams up for the best success.”
  • Initially, the Union were going to play in Seattle this weekend. But MLS gave each team in the Champions League a bye in one of the first two weeks (Seattle defeated Chivas Guadalajara 1-0 last night). It explains why the Union’s midweek trip to Seattle in September is sandwiched between home games against Montreal and Kansas City.
  • Fafa Picault has appealed his three game suspension. “The appeal helped his wallet but didn’t help the team,” said Curtin. Picault is still expected to miss the Union’s next two matches.


  1. Pragmatist says:

    I loved this line: “I’d rather him play eight throughballs and have seven of them get picked off and one connect, than play a bunch square and backward.”
    If the team can maintain an aggressive mindset like that, positive results will follow.

  2. Andy Muenz says:

    What about spot starting him Fontana at the 8 and moving Bedoya out to the wing? Might be something to try with Picault suspended for two more games.
    It’s several months away, but he should definitely be inked in on the trip to Seattle. That game should be a bunch of reserves rather than making the starters put in 6000 miles of travel and 3 games in a week.

    • That would require something called “squad rotation”, which Jim Curtin is not familiar with.

      • I’ve said it before, but this year is the real test on squad rotation for Curtin. The past couple years we have had the combo of a mediocre at best bench and injuries. Time will tell.

      • im excited already.

    • That squad rotation is essential for that match. What a bear of a week…

    • I’d actually prefer this as a way to get Derrick Jones onto the field as more than just a late-game stopper. That said… it gives Curtin some flexibility here to have both options. Assuming the usual starters, when protecting a lead he can shift Bedoya wide and insert Jones; when chasing a game, he could shift Bedoya and insert Fontana.
      And I agree with A that this year will be the real test for Curtin when it comes to squad rotation. He’s been really shitty at it in years past – especially up top with CJ. He really has no excuses this year. The combo of Jones and Fontana give him nice depth options in the middle at all three spots; he’s get a bevy of different options on the wing; Ilsinho can do wing or the 10; and he has some options at forward so CJ maybe gets most of a game off here and there. If Curtin doesn’t leverage his depth this year, it’s a real problem.

    • el Pachyderm says:

      Yeah and we can’t forget, when Bedoya is away at World Cup, there will be plenty of time to play Fontana in the 8 to see how he fairs there.

  3. Tim Jones says:

    Once Dockal is up to speed and full endurance a likely option for Fontana is game minutes in Bethlehem, I would think.

  4. Fontana looked like an offensive 8 running the 10 to me last game. Not that he couldn’t grow into that role, but if Aaronson is really the player they think we could have an a ton of academy guys staring in like 2-3 years: Trusty, Jones, Fontana, Aaronson, Real, and maybe others.

  5. Will Fontana be playing a lot in Bethlehem this year or will he be Playing 15-30 mins every game or every other game with the Union . Can he do both? I’m not sure which solution is better.

  6. OneManWolfpack says:

    The playing time of Dockal vs Fontana will show me if Curtin has learned how to be a manager. I fully don’t expect them to be equal, and that is fine, but Curtin must allow Fontana to develop this year. He can’t just pull a Keegan and sit him for 3 months… unless of course Dockal is the second coming and we can’t stop winning. Regardless, this is huge for the growth of not only Fontana but the Union in general. Jim, please show me you know how to do this.

  7. I think it’s much more likely that Ilsinho backs up Dockal and Fontana is a late sub when we’re up to hold possession (that’ll happen,right?). If Ilsinho wasn’t hurt I don’t think Fontana played.

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